May 08, 2008
Rosenthal's effect on the DA race

The Houston Politics blog flags a fundraising letter and accompanying clip sheet (both PDFs) from the Clarence Bradford for DA campaign, which prominently feature Chuck Rosenthal's follies, and ask the question "Is Rosenthal still a campaign issue?" To which my answer is Yes, though perhaps not quite in the manner intended by this question. As I wrote in my overview of the DA race, I believe that Rosenthal's resignation, combined with Kelly Siegler's loss in the GOP primary and the appointment of Ken Magidson as the interim DA has largely created the perception that the "Rosenthal era" is over, and problems associated with it are gone with him. I don't necessarily agree with all that, but there's certainly a lot less turmoil now than there was a few months ago. So to some extent, Rosenthal is diminished as an issue. He's not there, continuing to screw things up and generally be a distraction. For good reason, people are forgetting him and moving on.

That said, there are two ways in which Rosenthal will keep on being an issue. There is a new guy in place, and he is doing some things differently, but the people and policies there are largely Rosenthal's, and will be so until a new DA is elected. Both candidates are campaigning on how they will change the way the office is run, and you can't have that conversation without talking about what Rosenthal did, for good or bad. Unless Ken Magidson decides that being an interim manager is no obstacle to making sweeping changes - something I think is extremely unlikely - Bradford or Lykos will inherit more or less the same office from him that they would have from Rosenthal. They can and will talk about how their office will differ.

That's largely operational in nature - things like transparency, ethics, and not doing stupid things with email. There's also the matter of philosophy and judgment. Both candidates will argue that their judgment is better than Rosenthal's on pretty much everything, but philosophy will be an interesting point. Bradford is definitely staking out a new direction for the office, in the mold of Dallas DA Craig Watkins, which would represent a very big change from Rosenthal. Pat Lykos hasn't really talked about this sort of thing as yet, mostly because I think she doesn't substantially differ from Rosenthal on these matters. Here, I think the two candidates will speak more directly to and at each other, but whether Lykos differentiates herself from Rosenthal on some or all of this or not, they'll still be talking about him. And if Lykos sticks with Rosenthal philosophically, then in some sense the election will be about whether the voters liked the way Rosenthal ran things but had had enough of him personally, or if they were tired of how he conducted business as well.

On this score, I feel confident that Lykos will prefer it if Rosenthal's name doesn't get mentioned too much. Even if she won't change a thing in how the office carries out prosecutions, she'd rather not be associated with him in any way. It therefore makes sense for Bradford to keep bringing Rosenthal up, because it will allow him to make the case that Lykos doesn't represent a real change but he does. So yes, Rosenthal is and will be a campaign issue.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 08, 2008 to Election 2008