By Paul J. Young, City News Service:
Residents of Riverside County will be well served by whoever prevails in the Riverside County district attorney's race, whose two candidates are both "impressive," supervisors who have endorsed both men said this week.
"These are two people I like," county Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said. "They're both very honorable, professional and dedicated public servants."
Supervisor John Benoit expressed similar feelings, acknowledging that "co-endorsements" are not common in politics, but sometimes it can't be helped.
"I endorsed District Attorney Paul Zellerbach when he came to me a year ago," Benoit said. "Mr. (Mike) Hestrin came along later, and I had a chance to see him in the community. I could see he had a lot on the ball, a lot to offer. I have friends and neighbors who hold him in very high regard. So I decided to co-endorse."
Zellerbach, a former judge, is seeking a second term as the county's top prosecutor. Hestrin, a 15-year deputy district attorney who until 2012 handled capital homicide cases, initiated a grassroots campaign roughly a year ago with the goal of unseating his boss.
The challenger has assailed Zellerbach's leadership style, internal policy decisions and the general direction in which he's taken the office over the last 3 1/2 years, at a time when plea agreements have surged while state- imposed public safety realignment measures have saddled the county with a higher number of felons to squeeze into local jails.
Zellerbach has defended his record, underscoring that under his management, the D.A.'s office budget has been consistently balanced, the courts are functioning under less strain and inter-agency relations have improved.
"What competitive campaign doesn't get a little testy?" Jeffries told CNS. "The candidates have to contrast themselves. Politics is a contact sport, for better or worse. I haven't had to live in Paul's house of business. I don't know first-hand the challenges going on over there. But I still feel he's a capable D.A., and I'm glad to support him."
Jeffries noted that Zellerbach did not back him when he ran for supervisor in 2012, while Hestrin did, yet he still felt obligated to split his endorsement between the two men.
"To some degree, a dual endorsement does dilute the whole concept of an endorsement," Jeffries said. "But it's also a statement, at least in my case, of knowing both these candidates. I believe the public will win either way. You can do well with either man. So it's up to the individual voters to decide on the qualities of these two candidates and vote appropriately."
Benoit praised Zellerbach for "turning the D.A.'s office around," pointing specifically to the incumbent's success in helping clear a backlog of several hundred untried felony cases that had accumulated under his predecessor, briefly forcing the suspension of civil hearings at the Riverside Historic Courthouse.
"We had cases going back seven years," Benoit said. "I had friends on jury duty and others familiar with the justice system expressing frustration."
The supervisor said he believes either Zellerbach or Hestrin would "be successful" in keeping the judicial apparatus running smoothly.
"A co-endorsement is something you do when you're faced with tough choices," Benoit said. "It's a tough choice selecting just one of these two. Both are impressive. So Mr. and Mrs. Voter -- it's up to you."