Friday, March 18, 2011 at 9:50 a.m.
Five months ago, an angry Todd Spitzer took control of a public employees' local union hall in Santa Ana; called print, radio and television reporters to a press conference; and made a historic announcement.
Spitzer--a former prosecutor, county supervisor and Republican state assemblyman--claimed that a cancer was destroying the county's criminal-justice system and that malignancy, he said, had a name: District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, a fellow Republican.
Spitzer asserted that under Rackauckas' watch, innocent people are knowingly sent to prison and that the DA's campaign contributors or pals are secretly rewarded with lucrative, no-bid contracts or, in other cases, allowed to run sinister enterprises without fear of prosecution.
"The corruption in [the DA's office] stinks, and it's got to stop," Spitzer said. "From the ninth floor down [Rackauckas' executive team occupies the 10th floor of the DA's Santa Ana headquarters], people are tired of the way Susan, Mike and Tony play politics."
Susan and Mike would be Susan and Mike Schroeder, the DA's longtime closest allies. Susan serves as Rackauckas' chief of staff and public-affairs counsel, and Mike is a Santa Ana chiropractic-insurance-company king and bigwig in California Republican Party politics. The couple's enemies compare Susan to Cruella De Vil and Mike to Machiavellian industrialist Lex Luthor.
To save residents from Rackauckas-Schroeder corruption, Spitzer announced that day, he would challenge the DA in the next election. He didn't say he was thinking about entering that campaign. He didn't say he was 90 percent sure he'd run. He stated without equivocation that he was a candidate for the county's top prosecutor spot in 2014.
Frank Mickadeit of Orange County Register lore was in the room with me when Spitzer made his declaration. In fact, both of us fled Spitzer's press conference when he began haranguing us for being Rackauckas shills, which isn't just ridiculous--I dare say the worst media coverage the DA has received has been under my byline--but also hypocritical. Spitzer will always have the knee-jerk support of the anti-Schroeder crowd, but I'm getting a severe case of whiplash watching him flip-flop on Rackauckas' corruption.
Please recall this timeline: In 2004, Spitzer says the DA is evil and corrupt and he will challenge him. In 2005, Spitzer changes his mind about running. In 2008, Spitzer says Rackauckas isn't just great, but also his "mentor" and accepts a top prosecutor slot in the DA's office when he faces term limits in the state Assembly. In 2009, Spitzer continues to publicly hail the DA as a wonderful, honest man and holds regular dining meetings with Mike Schroeder to discuss political strategy. In 2010--after the filing deadline passes for the next DA term--Rackauckas announces he's tired of Spitzer's immaturity, ego and antics. Next, we are sitting in the press conference where Spitzer says Rackauckas is evil and must be removed from office, a job he volunteers to accept.
Yet something drastic happened in Spitzer's noggin between this month and last October. He announced he is running for an open seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors. He didn't un-announce his DA campaign. It was as if he were pretending his earlier decision hadn't happened.
No worries. The Columbo of OC journalism entered the scene, scoring a recent Spitzer interview. While smoking "Caribbean" cigars, the men discussed the supervisors' race. The resulting Mickadeit column outlined why Spitzer thinks he deserves the seat more than the other announced candidate, Chuck DeVore.
(Insert the loud, screeching sound of a Hummer breaking to a sudden halt on wet asphalt to avoid crushing elementary-school kids in a crosswalk.)
Frank, why didn't you press Todd to explain his latest Rackauckas flip-flop? Can he now accept the idea that evil runs the DA's office? Perhaps Todd did explain, and with all that smoke swirling around Frank just forgot to put that detail in his column.
To resolve this mystery, I contacted Spitzer, who seems to be on speed dial with several, softball-pitching local journalists, none of them at the Weekly. He said he was open to talk. I then asked him these two simple questions:
"Given Frank's column, I'd like you to answer this: If, as you've said, Rackauckas and the Schroeders are dirty, why would you forgo that challenge for another office? Is that a disservice to OC residents who expect honest government, especially in the DA's office?"
Spitzer is never mum. Ask about the weather, and you'll get a five-minute answer. But in this case, he's silent. Those questions have been pending for more than 36 hours.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly