After emerging as the winner in the county's closest race, Sheriff-elect Mike Carona said Wednesday that he will seek to patch up differences between himself and the sheriff's deputies who so fervently supported his opponent, Santa Ana Police Chief Paul M. Walters.
"The task before me now is to build a coalition with the people who were against me," said Carona, who beat Walters by a margin of 6%. "The vast majority will be loyal to whom the sheriff is. They just want to be treated fairly."
Carona, who will succeed longtime Sheriff Brad Gates as the county's top law enforcement officer, said he hopes to meet with Gates soon to discuss transition plans.
As Carona basked in his victory, Walters held an emotional press conference to thank his supporters and to announce that he will "probably" challenge Carona in 2002.
Meanwhile, Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Rackauckas celebrated his decisive win over Assistant Dist. Atty. Wallace J. Wade for the job of district attorney, which is being vacated by Mike Capizzi.
"I'm relieved," Rackauckas said. "It's a relief to actually win after going through the entire campaign. The stakes got to be pretty high. So many people were counting on me winning. They felt the quality of their careers depended on the outcome of the election."
Rackauckas' victory was a popular one among the rank and file that had been unhappy with Capizzi's management style.
"I think there's a quiet euphoria throughout the office," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan McNerney, who supported Rackauckas. "You don't have people running up and down the halls screaming and yelling but as you see your colleagues, everyone has a smile on their face. I think there's a great anticipation of positive changes in the office."
Rackauckas said he is looking forward to "reorganizing" the office from top to bottom.
"I want to do everything I can to arrange a smooth transition during this next period so when we change hands it's not going to be traumatic for anyone," said Rackauckas, who plans to meet with Capizzi at some point to discuss transition plans.
Rackauckas, 54, who worked in the district attorney's office for 16 years before becoming a judge, said he wants to improve working conditions for prosecutors including better workstations and upgrading computer systems to improve research capabilities. He also wants to give front-line trial attorneys more input into their individual cases.
"There's a lot of work to be done to get the morale where it should be," he said. "We need to give those people a decent place to work. It's really subpar."
Rackauckas also said collection of child support payments will be a priority because "it affects the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people in our county." He said the entire family support unit of the office will be reorganized. Rackauckas would like to streamline the process of filing criminal complaints.
A disappointed Wade congratulated Rackauckas on his victory early Wednesday morning and later said he hopes to remain with the district attorney's office.
"I'm a career prosecutor," Wade said. "This is what I like doing and I enjoy serving the client we have: the people. I intend to stay."
Rackauckas declined to comment specifically on Wade's future in the office, but he did say that changes would be made in top management.
"The people on the management team are going to need to be people who are on the same page in terms of where we want the office to go," he said. "I haven't made any decisions yet as to who should be on that team and who shouldn't be."
Carona, the Orange County marshal, spent much of Wednesday at his office but attended the monthly lunch meeting of the Orange County Police Chiefs and Sheriff's Assn., where he said he was warmly received even by those who had endorsed his opponent.
"The bottom line is: We all work together. And today was very collegial," Carona said. "I was congratulated by all of my colleagues. It will be a real solid working relationship. I hope Paul will want to be a part of that."
Walters, who did not attend the lunch, was at times tearful at his press conference as he thanked those who stood by him. He said he believes it is important that the Santa Ana Police Department, which he has led for 10 years, maintains the close working relationship with the Sheriff's Department, despite the bitterly personal tone his campaign against Carona took.
"It's part of being a professional," Walters said. "You have to go forth and do what you're sworn to do."
The Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs released a lengthy statement Wednesday vowing to maintain "the same professional and effective service" and said Carona must be given the chance to build a consensus in the department.
But, the organization said, "that does not mean . . . that all will be forgotten."