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Dan May versus John Newsome: showdown for top cop

click to enlarge Dan May - COURTESY OF DAN MAY FOR D.A
  • courtesy of Dan May for D.A
  • Dan May

The hardball battle for district attorney has witnessed skirmishes over accepting money from children, allegations of unfair demotions, and scuffles over who is the Grandest Old Republican.

Indeed, there is little order in the court.

Next Tuesday, Aug. 10, Republican voters in El Paso and Teller counties will decide who will be the next 4th Judicial District's district attorney -- who oversees the office that prosecutes the crimes committed in the region -- for the next four years.

As no other candidates are running, the primary winner will take over from the current elected District Attorney Jeanne Smith when sworn in next January.

Will it be Dan May, 48, who has loyally served as assistant district attorney, the second in command under Smith, for the past eight years?

Or will it be John Newsome, 35, a prosecutor of 10 years, including three as head of the juvenile unit, who upset his opponent's apple cart by announcing more than a year ago his intention to challenge the status quo?

Appearance of anointment

When Newsome announced his candidacy more than a year ago on June 18 -- his wife's birthday -- many Republican insiders were stunned. Only a few high-profile supporters attended his announcement party; former El Paso County Sheriff John Anderson took the stage to endorse Newsome as the next district attorney.

Then, and again more recently, Anderson said, "The office would benefit from a change in leadership, a change to a more aggressive pursuit of violent offenders."

Before Newsome's announcement, many Republican die-hards assumed May, who has worked 21 years as a prosecutor -- including the past eight as Smith's right-hand man -- was a shoo-in.

After all, May, the son of influential former state Legislator Barbara Philips, had the endorsement of his boss Smith, 49. Smith herself had been the right-hand woman to former District Attorney John Suthers and had received an important endorsement from Suthers as his replacement when he was term-limited from office eight years ago.

"Dan is very ethical; his integrity is phenomenal," said Teller County Sheriff Kevin Dougherty, who is supporting May for district attorney.

Yet, the appearance of anointment did not sit well with some. As Newsome supporter and co-chair of the El Paso County Bush-Cheney campaign, Cindy Murphy said, "It seems like the office has been handed down from John Suthers to Jeanne Smith, who wants to hand it to Dan May. Some say it's Dan's turn. It's not anyone's turn -- it's an open seat."

By the time this year's May 15 Republican County Assembly took place, Newsome's base of support had grown. Meanwhile, May -- whose campaign is headed by GOP party stalwarts Bob Gardner and Holly Williams, the county trustee and wife of County Commissioner Wayne Williams -- opted to bypass the party caucus system and instead petitioned onto the ballot.

Out and about

As a result, Newsome received top line on the ballot. He now counts among his key supporters several of the most conservative voices in the local Republican Party -- including state Rep. Dave Schultheis and former state Sen. Ray Powers. In addition, Newsome is backed by a stable of strange bedfellows, including Democrats, law enforcement officials and defense lawyers.

Countering accusations that he was afraid to face the GOP caucus, May explained that petitioning voters -- getting registered Republican voters to sign off in support of a candidate -- "is a good process. It gets you out to people's homes."

May also expressed disquiet at the problems that arose at the Republican County Assembly. The May 1 meeting of the party faithful was expected to select a candidate for district attorney, but the vote to pick either May or Newsome was postponed due to a technical hitch.

May said that he was not confident that the postponement was legal and decided that petitioning voters was a safer bet.

The fine print

May and Newsome share similar values and their views of the essential issues are comparable.

click to enlarge John Newsome - BRUCE ELLIOTT

They both say they are tough on crime; they support the death penalty, strongly support gun owners' rights and oppose abortion. They want to crack down on methamphetamine labs; increase the rate of convictions for economic crime and identity theft; and come down harder on repeat offenders.

Where they differ is in the fine print.

When it comes to firearms, May says that there should be restrictions in allowing people to freely carry guns into schools and government buildings. Newsome says he supports gun owners' rights to carry their firearms wherever, and however, they wish.

Both candidates say they disagree with Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. But May supports abortion when a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake.

Newsome, meanwhile, calls "every abortion ... a tragedy," including those that are a result of rape, incest or when the mother's life is threatened.

In either case, the abortion issue is a bit of a red herring, as both candidates say that irrespective of their personal views, as district attorney his job would be to enforce the law as it stands, including the legalized abortion law.

The meatier differences come down to how the district attorney's office should be run. During the campaign, Newsome has been a critic to what he terms an "extremely high turnover rate" of attorneys. In recent years, the percentage of prosecutors streaming out of the office has been as high as 30 percent.

Newsome has also called for increased staffing in its economic crime unit, which prosecutes the fast-growing area of white-collar crimes. In addition, he wants to reorganize, or in his word, "streamline," the office's management structure. Finally, Newsome -- who has been endorsed by the local Police Protective Association -- has stated the need for the district attorney's office to improve the working relationship with law enforcement.

May terms Newsome's platforms as unrealistic and, in some cases, unnecessary.

For example, May agrees that the economic crimes division could use beefing up, but budget restrictions hamper making that a reality. For his part, if elected, May says he is committed to pushing the El Paso County Board of Commissioners -- which funds the district attorney's office -- to increase the unit's budget so that he can appoint two additional investigators.

As far as turnover in the office, May argued that battling to keep attorneys is a constant struggle for any district attorney's office -- as the private sector is able to pay far higher salaries. May maintains the attrition rate is not excessive compared with other district attorney offices in Colorado.

May, however, says he has been pushing to increase benefits, and other perks -- including providing non-cash benefits such as loan forgiveness programs and personal days off -- to improve the attractiveness of the office to attorneys.

Overall, May praises the successes that he's worked for and witnessed and maintains that the district attorney's office deserves a steady hand of an established insider. He respects his opponent's ability as a prosecutor, but argues that Newsome lacks the experience to run an office of 63 attorneys and 110 support staff.

Court of public opinion

May and Newsome have their similarities, but their supporters and detractors have made a mighty effort to differentiate them in the court of public opinion.

Early this year, in response to an obvious pro-May tip, the daily Gazette reported that Newsome had accepted campaign contributions from underage children of defense attorneys.

While the contributions were not illegal, Newsome ultimately returned $3,637 to 19 children.

Then there were allegations that Newsome would be soft on crime, as many of his supporters were defense attorneys.

Recently, Newsome noted that the high involvement of all lawyers has always played an active part in the district attorney race. He pointed out that a large number of law enforcement personnel also support him.

And, Newsome noted, his opponent May's own campaign manager, Gardner, is a defense lawyer. Gardner, who works in the areas of business, government and election law, among others, has been a lawyer in Colorado Springs since 1988.

However, during this year's increasingly nasty campaign, the most dramatic claim of wrongdoing came from the Newsome camp, which alleged that District Attorney Smith demoted its candidate in early March because of his challenge to her second in command, the man she supports to replace her.

Newsome's demotion occurred a week after he secured coveted endorsements from the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado Springs Police Protection Association (PPA).

click to enlarge Falcon Patrol Officer Joe Schmeiler, the chair of the Police Protective Association political action committee. The PPA has endorsed Newsome. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Falcon Patrol Officer Joe Schmeiler, the chair of the Police Protective Association political action committee. The PPA has endorsed Newsome.

Newsome was subsequently transferred from being in charge of the juvenile division and overseeing a team of 14 to working in district court Division 12 -- a role usually held by an attorney with two to three years experience after law school. Newsome, with 10 years experience as a prosecutor, last held a similar position in 1998.

Smith termed Newsome's job change as simply a reassignment, not a demotion, and said she made the decision because her expectations were not being met. Smith would not comment further, citing personnel confidentiality rules.

The demotion enraged Newsome supporters, who on a snowy March day gathered in protest at the pavilion in the park across the street from the district attorney's office in downtown Colorado Springs. Waving placards that read "Dan May: Let my people go," and "You can't demote me: I vote" and "Smith sucks," the group of about 30 eventually crossed the street and personally delivered a formal notification of dissent to Smith's office.

"I thought it was not warranted; it was an example of politics," said Anderson, 50, the former El Paso County sheriff. "In my opinion, if [Newsome] had not run for office he would not have been demoted,"

Teller County Sheriff Dougherty, 51, also questioned the decision, but continues to support May and the administration. "I asked if it was political and they told me no. I believe that there are good reasons," he said.

May maintains that Newsome reports to Smith and he is not privy to the reasons for his opponent's demotion.

Both Smith and May suggested that Newsome make his personnel file public, as he is the only one who has the authority to discuss his employment conditions.

Newsome, however, has declined to open his employment records for public scrutiny.

Parallel roads

In many ways, May and Newsome have shared parallel roads in life and work history.

May, a father of two, has been married to his wife Leslie for 18 years. He completed his law degree at Creighton University, a Jesuit college, in 1981 and initially worked for a year in private practice before joining the 4th Judicial District's Office of the District Attorney in 1982.

In 1997, District Attorney Smith promoted him to assistant district attorney, and he has been the second in command since.

Newsome, meanwhile, completed his law degree at the University of San Diego and in 1994 began his career as a prosecutor in the district attorney's office in Colorado Springs -- the last four, until his demotion, as head of juvenile prosecutions. He has been married for 10 years; he and wife Cindy have three children.

May bristles when he hears critics raise the question of succession: "If the commander of Fort Carson was retiring, wouldn't you look to his number two or three to replace him?" he asks.

Not necessarily, responds John San Agustin, a Newsome supporter who works at the El Paso County Sheriff's Office as a crime media specialist.

"The status quo stinks right now; the [district attorney's office] needs to evolve to handle new types of crimes," said San Agustin, 35, who maintains that only "100 or so" of 14,000 white-collar crime citations have been prosecuted.

Newsome has said that, if elected, he would increase the size of the economic crime unit by moving underutilized attorneys from other divisions and without spending more money.

Others, who have insisted on anonymity, claim that morale in the office has deteriorated during the heated race and over frustration with the current administration.

Chief Deputy Dan Zook calls those criticisms an injustice. Zook, 51, has worked at the district attorney's office since 1979, is supporting May for district attorney, and said, "This is one office that doesn't need fixing."

"We file more cases, try more and investigate more in a combined effort between police, the sheriff and the DAs," said Zook. He believes that the negative comments and rumors are politically motivated to damage May's credibility.

Win, lose, draw

As the campaign moves into the final draw, supporters have lined up with a vengeance beside their favored prosecutor.

click to enlarge Mary Harold describes John Newsome as having great integrity. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Mary Harold describes John Newsome as having great integrity.

Fountain Chief of Police John Morse, as well as Teller County Sheriff Dougherty have endorsed May and support the office. "We are pleased with Dan May and the district attorney's office as a whole. They give us great support," said Morse.

Others do not agree. "At the moment we don't have open communication," said Falcon Patrol Officer Joe Schmeiler, the chair of the Police Protective Association political action committee. "It's almost as if [the district attorneys] are aliens."

In March, the Police Protective Association endorsed Newsome's candidacy. The 800-member organization looks after the welfare of both civilian and sworn police personnel working for the Colorado Springs Police Department. "We look at pay issues, conditions and things like endorsing candidates we think are the best," said Schmeiler.

After the Police Protective Association's decision, Smith and May complained that the organization did not poll its members before backing May's opponent, and they claim the endorsement does not represent the views of all law enforcement officers. Schmeiler, however, maintains that the PPA had not received any objections to its endorsement of Newsome.

Newsome also secured another highly coveted endorsement: from the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition.

In a tricky maneuver earlier this year, Republican candidates vying for primary wins -- as well as the district attorney's office -- stacked an open meeting of the Firearms Coalition. There, supporters signed up for membership and, under the group's current bylaws, then were able to cast their votes for a candidate to endorse for the August primary.

As Bernie Herpin, the president of the PPFC, noted, "Newsome did a better job at attracting new members than May."

Both candidates, Herpin now says, "would have been good. Both are pro-gun."

Who's who of the hard right

Beyond the Firearms Coalition endorsement, both May and Newsome have racked up a veritable who's who of hard-right activists.

In Newsome's camp is Will Perkins, the former mayoral candidate and public face of Amendment 2, which was designed to prevent gays and lesbians from seeking legal protections from discrimination; ex-Focus on the Family executive Amy Stephens; and School District 11 board member Eric Christen, who in recent months has termed himself an "urban geurilla" for school vouchers.

Ultraconservative Mary Harold, active in the El Paso Republican party since she moved to Colorado Springs from California 15 years ago, describes Newsome as having "great integrity, truthfulness and a desire to achieve honesty in the office."

Newsome has also appealed to the more moderate and liberal activists, including former mayoral candidate and City Councilman Ted Eastburn and local defense attorneys Michael Salkind and Danny Kay.

May, meanwhile, has lined up the city's Republican power brokerage, Mayor Lionel Rivera, former Mayor Harlan Ochs, developers Steve Schuck and David Jenkins, and County Commissioner Williams, for support.

He also received endorsements from the Housing and Building Associations, as well as the local Realtors political action committee.

Finally, there is the money. May has agreed to a voluntary spending limit of $65,000, which means that, under Colorado campaign contribution laws, he is allowed to receive contributions from supporters at a maximum of $400 per person. Newsome, however, declined to voluntarily limit his contributions, which means he can solicit as much he can, as long as it's not more than $200 per person.

As of June 30, Newsome had raised $49,760, primarily from private-sector attorneys; property developers and realtors; and law enforcement officers.

The May campaign had a sluggish start, but as of June 30 had raised more than $37,000 from property developers, attorneys and influential Republicans.

With the high-profile endorsements in the bag and money in the bank, armies of volunteers are now making the closing arguments for their candidates.

They are out knocking on doors and, in some cases, sending out brochures designed to paint the worst of the guy they despise.

In the end, will the outcome really matter, other than to the hard-core supporters of May and Newsome and the candidates themselves?

In this showdown, Newsome has already announced that if he loses, he will resign from the district attorney's office and walk away from a 10-year career prosecuting criminals in the 4th Judicial District.

May, meanwhile, has declined to outline his plans, should he lose.

However, in this high-stakes race between two Republicans who share similar goals, but disagree on how to get there, figuratively, one thing appears clear: Only one will remain standing.

Cara DeGette contributed to this report.

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