10:00 PM PDT on Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Press-Enterprise

Riverside County district attorney candidate Paul Zellerbach spoke at fourth community forum Tuesday in which incumbent Rod Pacheco had been invited to debate him, but did not show.

“Mr. Pacheco isn’t here. He is an elected public official. You put him here. And you can remove him. I think as an elected official, you have a duty and obligation to come to forums and debate your opponents,” Zellerbach said as he addressed about 60 people in the Stratton Community Center in Riverside’s Bordwell Park.

Pacheco said in an interview last week that he believed groups opposed to his 2007 gang injunction were involved in organizing the forum.

“It’s not really sponsored by The League of Women Voters. It’s sponsored by groups that were opposed to the gang injunction, isn’t it?” Pacheco said. “They are using The League of Women Voters as their vehicle, as I understand it.”

Pacheco cited co-sponsors the Riverside branch of the NAACP and The Group. The injunction prohibits more than 100 East Side Riva gang members from congregating on street corners, wearing gang colors or carrying weapons.

Leaders of both organizations denied the claim.

“We were never opposed to the gang injunction … All we asked Mr. Pacheco to do was to come and speak to the families who still don’t quite understand it,” said Woodie Rucker-Hughes, president of the NAACP branch. “We believe if you do the crime, you do the time. We are not trying to coddle gangsters.”

Jennifer Vaughn-Blakely, president of The Group, said, “I’m still trying to find those groups he is talking about. Our organization has never done anything other than encourage people to go to community meetings.”

Had it been a debate, the candidates would have answered questions from the audience that were screened and read to them by a moderator, with time rules enforced. Zellerbach was held to the prescribed two-minute response times.

Two groups, The League of Women Voters of Northwest Riverside County and The Pick Group, had to withdraw their sponsorship of the event when it became clear Pacheco would not show.

Both organizations have policies of not sponsoring one-candidate events because it might give the appearance of bias, said Joan Donahue, president of the local league chapter.

Pacheco said last week he was “thinking about” facing Zellerbach in a debate, but did not specify when or where.

Pacheco also questioned the point of a debate, saying voters know about his office’s work in such areas as gang suppression and sexual predator prosecution.

“They know my record, so what’s a debate going to be?” he asked. “A debate is going to be me talking about what people already know. It’s just political.”

Rucker-Hughes said Tuesday that Pacheco “missed an opportunity to come out and show why he should be district attorney. And if he thinks that if he had come out to the meeting tonight we would have pounced on him and only talked about (the gang injunction) — that is insulting.”

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