Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich announced Thursday that he is jumping into the race for district attorney, drawing attacks from rivals on his integrity in what promises to be a bare-knuckled election fight to become L.A. County's top prosecutor.
The announcement came after Trutanich insisted for months that he had not decided whether to formally enter the contest even as he raised nearly $1 million and sought political endorsements.
Within minutes of Trutanich declaring his candidacy, a campaign strategist for county prosecutor Alan Jackson criticized Trutanich for violating his promise to voters during his successful 2009 city attorney's campaign not to seek higher office if he won.
"It's a window into his soul that the man can't be trusted," said John Thomas, who is running Jackson's campaign but worked for Trutanich in 2009. "His entire city attorney campaign was based on a lie."
Trutanich's campaign released a statement by one of his key supporters, Sheriff Lee Baca, describing such criticism as "merely a diversion from the real fact and that's who's best qualified to serve as district attorney for the County of Los Angeles."
Trutanich, who released a 13-minute video highlighting his career as a county prosecutor as well as his work as city attorney, stands out from a crowded field of candidates who are veteran prosecutors from within the district attorney's office.
So far, his fundraising has dwarfed that of his nearest rivals and he has won the endorsement of Baca, who described him in the statement as "the only candidate for district attorney that has sought and received the approval of the voters."
But the city attorney has also found himself at the center of controversy. In recent weeks, Trutanich apologized for erroneously identifying several law enforcement unions among his endorsements for district attorney.
And a piece of political theater from his 2009 campaign has come back to haunt him.
During that election, Trutanich called on then-City Councilman Jack Weiss to join him in swearing to seek a second term should he become city attorney and to promise not to run for another office, including district attorney, while serving in the post.
The pledge called on the election winner to donate $100,000 to an after-school program and to take out full-page newspaper ads declaring "I AM A LIAR" if he violated the terms.
"Let's see if he does it," said campaign consultant Parke Skelton, who is working for candidate Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Jacquelyn Lacey.
Trutanich has said that he did not know at the time he signed the pledge that Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley would retire and that he has been inundated by supporters urging him to run for district attorney.
Trutanich's senior political advisor, John Shallman, released a statement saying that the pledge "was a dead issue the minute Mr. Weiss refused to sign....The job of district attorney is too important to be trivialized by political name calling."
Jackson's campaign re-leased a mock newspaper ad that includes a photo of Trutanich under the words, "I am a liar."
Another candidate, Deputy Dist. Atty. Danette Meyers, also sharply criticized Trutanich, saying that attorneys depend on each other to keep their word in the courtroom.
"The D.A. has to be honest. Your word is your bond," she said. "Lawyers in dealing with him are going to be troubled by it. Lawyers in our office are going to be troubled by it."
Other candidates, including Mario Trujillo and Bobby Grace, were less critical and welcomed Trutanich to the race, saying that he would provide voters with an additional choice.
"Politicians say a lot of things about what they're going to do," Grace said. "Everybody who watches these things probably took what he had to say with a grain of salt."