Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch relieved, ready to refocus after recall’s failure
One day after perhaps the biggest political triumph of her career – and certainly the most emotional – Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch was feeling relieved, heartened, honored, fortified.
And tired. Tired of devoting energy to Bill Gallaher, she said, and his singular pursuit to oust her from the office she’s held since first being elected in 2010.
Voters on Tuesday resoundingly rejected her recall – a $1.7 million effort funded solely by Gallaher, campaign records show – as about 80% of ballots counted by Wednesday were against the recall.
“Reject revenge. I mean, how good is that?” Ravitch said Wednesday, referring to her campaign motto that described what she and others felt was Gallaher’s motivation.
“I’m getting so many messages of support. But the best message was the mood in my office today. Everyone at work is relieved and excited that we can focus even more on the work that we do and not worry about the garbage that was being spread.”
The recall contest was unusual in that Ravitch wasn’t running against another candidate. None filed to be on the ballot as her replacement should the recall have succeeded.
So she had no opposition to show she was the best person for the job. She had no one to debate.
Instead, the recall pitted her campaign against a monthslong broadside launched by Gallaher, a Sonoma County native and politically active developer whose company, Oakmont Senior Living, has built about 50 senior care facilities in California and Nevada. Gallaher also is founder and chairman of the Santa Rosa-based Poppy Bank.
Gallaher launched the recall effort last year nearly two months after one of his companies agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by local and state prosecutors over the abandonment of 100 frail and elderly residents of two Oakmont Senior Living care homes in Fountaingrove as the 2017 Tubbs fire bore down. The seniors escaped with the help of family, friends and first responders. One of the homes burned to the ground.
The recall effort also came less than one week after Ravitch announced she would not run for a fourth term in 2022.
Ravitch and her campaign privately expressed confidence that she would withstand Gallaher’s political strike. Still, when the first returns from Tuesday’s election were released, it set off a wave of astounded whoops, hollers and victorious fist-pumping from her group of supporters assembled at the Teamsters union hall in Santa Rosa.
The surprise came from how conclusive the numbers were. With nearly half of the expected ballots in, the recall campaign was trounced, outpaced at a rate of five votes to one.
All precincts with in-person votes have since reported, but Registrar of Voters Deva Proto said her workers are still going through mail ballots received Tuesday, with more coming in through the mail this week. She expects turnout could reach as high as 70% and could have updates by the end of the week.
The additional ballots aren’t expected to change the outcome in the DA recall.
Gallaher could not be reached for comment Wednesday. His wife, Cindy, who has sometimes served as family spokesperson, declined to comment about the election and what the loss means to the family.
Recall campaign officials could not be reached Wednesday. On Tuesday night, they declined to comment beyond a written statement that touted the importance of accountability for elected officials.
“We are proud of the campaign we have run and the long-term impacts that this movement will have on ensuring accountability and transparency in Sonoma County politics, regardless of the recall’s outcome,” read the unsigned statement.
Together, Gallaher and his daughter Molly Flater, an executive in the family’s development business, have spent more than $3.5 million on two elections in the past two years, according to campaign finance records. Flater reported spending $1.8 million to defeat a 2020 measure that sought an early renewal of the quarter-cent sales tax that supports SMART, the North Bay’s passenger rail system.
The recall campaign targeting Ravitch was the most expensive of its kind in Sonoma County history. The recall election itself also was exceptionally rare — the first targeting a county elected official since the late 1970s.
Ravitch said Gallaher concocted the recall campaign to exact vengeance over her office’s prosecution of the Tubbs fire case and damage her reputation in the community. Gallaher’s campaign targeted Ravitch’s brother in a false insinuation that she intervened on his behalf after he was prosecuted in Napa County in connection with an accidental fatal 2015 car wreck that killed his best friend.