Los Angeles County voters selected Chief Deputy District Attorney Jackie Lacey to replace former boss Steve Cooley as District Attorney, and in doing so, they took part in a groundbreaking event.
On Dec. 3, Lacey will be sworn into the D.A.'s post, making her the first black and first female district attorney in county history.
Lacey -- who was endorsed by Cooley -- defeated Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson, a longtime prosecutor best known for leading the murder prosecution of music producer Phil Spector.
Lacey garnered about 55 percent of the vote, compared with about 45 percent for Jackson.
"I look forward to being sworn in as your new district attorney December 3rd, 2012," Lacey said at a mid-morning news conference.
She said she wanted to thank the electorate for "voting for the most positive campaign, for listening to the message that qualifications matter, for accepting the endorsement of my boss, Steve Cooley, and for really listening to our message."
When asked about Lacey's historic election, Cooley stepped in and said his chief deputy's election "was on the merits."
"This was the best candidate. It's not about race or gender. This is the best candidate -- qualifications, qualifications, qualifications, experience. That's what this is all about," the district attorney said.
Lacey said the fact that she is a black woman "should never get in the way of voters trusting me with their justice system and voting for me and it didn't."
She said she believed her election as the county's top prosecutor may inspire women and minorities to seek careers in law enforcement.
As for her campaign rival, Lacey acknowledged that it had been an "acrimonious campaign," while stressing that her campaign tried to keep it "positive."
She called Jackson "a fine trial lawyer" and said she intends to work with him.
"It will be up to him what he does with his future in terms of staying with the office... If he chooses to remain as a prosecutor, sure, we will welcome that talent," Lacey said.
During the campaign, Jackson stressed his success as a prosecutor, while Lacey emphasized her management skills as key to running the district attorney's office.
"I'm the only candidate who's been a prosecutor for 16 years and had 12 years of leadership experience," Lacey told City News Service. "While the prosecutorial experience is very important ... the D.A.'s Office is a law firm and the district attorney is not the person who goes to court. He or she is the leader of the largest prosecutor's office in the nation and puts policies in place and supports prosecutors who are in the courtroom. ... It takes a couple of years for someone to even learn everything there is to know in order to run that office and I am the best prepared candidate for that job."
Lacey, a Los Angeles native and USC Law School graduate, has worked for the D.A.'s Office since 1986. She has tried about 60 felony cases to jury verdicts, including 11 homicides and the county's first trial of a race- motivated hate crime, according to her campaign.
She is now second-in-command to Cooley and a longstanding member of the office's executive management team.
Lacey said she would prioritize public safety and victims' rights as well as the expansion of alternative sentencing courts that offer options for low-level offenders.
Jackson has been with the district attorney's office for 17 years and is assistant head deputy of the office's Major Crimes Division.
He has led the prosecution of more than 60 felonies -- nearly half of them homicides -- and has a 96 percent felony conviction rate, according to his campaign.
Jackson congratulated Lacey, saying that while they have disagreements, "we share a commitment to making Los Angeles County a safer place to live."
"I look forward to working with Jackie and her administration to take on the dangerous criminals who threaten our community, fight for the vulnerable and for victims of crime, and work to keep children out of crime in the first place," he said.
The race was at times combative, with each campaign accusing the other's candidate of lying. In television ads, Jackson accused Lacey of "being dishonest under oath" to advantage Cooley: a reference to Lacey's testimony in a labor dispute involving the D.A.'s Office and in a subsequent hearing when she said she had misspoken.
Lacey's camp accused Jackson of lying about whether a party held by a campaign donor was a fundraiser -- the donor and party host turned out to be a convicted felon jailed in connection with a mortgage loan scheme, forcing Jackson to return his $3,000 contribution.
Neither charge seems to have gotten much traction, based on prominent endorsements for each candidate.
Lacey was endorsed by Cooley, Sheriff Lee Baca, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles County Supervisors Gloria Molina and Mark Ridley-Thomas. She was backed by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party in the non-partisan race.
Jackson was endorsed by former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, Los Angeles County Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe and many other elected officials and local police associations. He was endorsed by the Los Angeles County Republican Party.