It's been over six months now since Judge Pat Lykos defeated Kelly Siegler in the Republican Primary for the District Attorney's race, leaving her to face Democratic candidate and former Houston Police Chief Clarence Bradford in the November election. The last time I wrote anything definitive on the race was immediately on the heels of the run-off vote.
Many things have changed over the past six months. Time has passed and life has settled back down to a large degree -- just in time for everything to get all stirred up again for November! In the meantime, I'll try to take a little less emotional look at what is probably the most important race affecting those of us in and around the Criminal Justice Center.
In the wake of the Republican run-off, I, along with several other prosecutors had a sit-down meeting with Chief Bradford. I was impressed by his easy-going demeanor and his very apparent earnestness at explaining the direction he wanted to take the Office. He was very nice. He answered the tough questions about his past with HPD, and he stayed as long as we had questions. At the end of the meeting, I realized that he was a charismatic leader and I liked him very much.
The flak that Chief Bradford largely gets obviously comes from his time as Chief of the Houston Police Department, with the DNA Lab Scandal and the K-Mart Raid being the Top Two marks against him. It is true that some of the blame of those two events rests with Chief Bradford, but I don't think they should be the factors that are necessarily fatal to his campaign.
The crime lab was already in disarray long before he took over the helm of HPD. It is true that he didn't give the problems the proper attention that they deserved, but I think that he has gotten the lion's share of the blame without being the one most responsible for what happened there.
As for the K-Mart raid, you can count me as one of the citizens of the county that thought the motorcycle racers that regularly hung out at the K-Mart on Westheimer were a bad nuisance to the community. There was more than one occasion that I was driving on 610 when those bikers would all leave the parking lot and go jetting down the highway, causing chaos on the pavement. That raid needed to happen, and if it had gone as planned, it would have been loudly praised. Unfortunately, it got out of hand at the scene for whatever reason. Chief Bradford wasn't at that scene, and I think that we all know that sometimes the best laid plans can often go awry.
No, Chief Bradford's past with HPD does not concern me when looking at his ability to be District Attorney. There is also something to be said for his ability as a manager of large amounts of people in a major law enforcement entity in a large county. Those are relevant skills.
What does concern me about Chief Bradford as the elected District Attorney is that everything I hear him talking about on the campaign trail seems to have more to do with being well liked than creating an effective District Attorney's office. Yes, it would be great if the Harris County District Attorney's Office was the most beloved of all D.A.'s offices throughout the country, but unfortunately, that's not really the job description.
Bill Turner, the elected District Attorney in Brazos County (and someone I consider to be a mentor to me) once told me that "being the District Attorney is the slow alienation of your community". What he meant was that the District Attorney and the prosecutors under him or her have to make tough decisions, and those decisions are often unpopular with the people they affect. But that's part of the job. Everybody cheers the traffic cop who saves the citizen trapped in a burning car, but we'll be cussing his name the second he writes us a traffic ticket, won't we?
(As a side note, if you are reading this in Brazos County, please vote for Bill Turner. He's one of the greatest prosecutors I've ever seen and he makes my old hometown very proud).
The bottom line is that a person doesn't become the District Attorney to be loved. They are there to do a job and it is a job based on tough decisions that have to be made. Often times public opinion has to be set aside to do what is legally correct. Over-exerting yourself trying to be well-loved will set a leader up to doing the wrong thing in the name of popularity. I would rather hear from a candidate who is talking more about being tough on crime than talking about building a public defender's office. That's not the D.A.'s job, and Bradford's devotion to community relationships and public perception greatly concerns me.
The lack of familiarity with what the job entails for him concerns me greatly.
Judge Lykos actually does have that familiarity with the job description. It is also my firm belief that (all campaign slams against Kelly Siegler during the primary campaign aside) she knows that the Harris County District Attorney's Office is the best damn D.A.'s Office in the Nation. While Chief Bradford is talking about a complete dismantling and rebuilding of the Office, she knows that it is an Office filled with the most talented Public Servants in the world. It may need some tweaking, but it doesn't need the massive overhaul that Chief Bradford is promising.
She knows from her experience as a judge how the Criminal Justice System works from inside the courtroom. She knows that the basic structure of the Office is a pretty amazing system that day in and day out meets the needs of a very crime-ridden community. She knows the difference between cases that can be legally proven and those that can't. She also understands that being the District Attorney often means doing the unpopular thing in the name of Justice.
There is also the high likelihood that she will be bringing along Jim Leitner as a part of her upper-Administration. Awhile back, I took some pretty serious potshots at Jim, when I was feeling angry and disappointed with him over his endorsement of Lykos.
For that, I'm sorry. Jim Leitner is a good attorney and a good person. If a Lykos Administration brings Leitner with it, then that's a definite positive.
So, I'm caught in a bit of a Catch-22 here.
On a personal level, I like Chief Bradford a lot, and I would gladly work for him. On the flip side, I think that the way that Lykos ran her primary campaign drug our Office through the mud and it ran one of the greatest prosecutors in the Nation out of public service.
I spoke out about it then, and I don't regret that. I stood by my friend who I believed to be the best candidate for the job and I did it wholeheartedly. I wouldn't be the kind of person I want to be if I had handled it any different.
I would imagine that Pat Lykos will probably fire me (uh, if I actually work there) if elected.
That would be her Right.
But the election isn't about what's best for me. It's about what is best for Harris County.
You can pick at and blast me all you want, but I'm proud of being a member of the Harris County District Attorney's Office. Chuck Rosenthal was not a representation of what we stand for or how we conduct ourselves on a day to day basis. From the top to the bottom, that Office is filled with people that I'm proud to say I work with every day. What was needed to restore the reputation of that Office was for Chuck to leave, which he did. Look at how well the Office has done under the few short months that Ken Magidson has been in charge there.
Ultimately, I think that Pat Lykos is the better of the two choices for Harris County, as much as it pains me on a personal level to say.
The next four years are going to be really interesting, no matter what.
If it gets too bad, just remember this slogan:
AHCL in Twenty Twelve!