Facing off for what will be one of the most fiercely contested seats in San Luis Obispo County, district attorney hopefuls Dan Dow and Tim Covello traded verbal blows at a March 26 public forum.
The San Luis Obispo Latino Outreach Council played host to the forum, which centered on topics ranging from the death penalty to the definition of justice. The debate also typified mounting campaign tension as an eager, personable, and politically wise candidate like Dow attempts to outshine Covello’s more than two decades of prosecutorial experience—and at times, things got ugly.
Kicking off the evening with opening remarks, Covello used his time to chastise Dow for sending him a private email shortly before the debate. According to Covello’s statement, Dow warned that Covello had accepted money from an individual whom Dow had convicted for a “simple DUI.” Covello accused Dow of threatening to leak that fact to the press, and if he didn’t return the money “my reputation could suffer.”
“He finished by saying I hope to have an answer from you by March 24; I’d rather not have this become an issue,” Covello said before turning to Dow. “This should never become an issue … this is not the type of campaign that this community needs.”
Dow began his opening statement by reading from a translated sheet in Spanish, “Good evening. I’m Dan Dow, deputy district attorney, and I’m a candidate for district attorney of San Luis Obispo.”
He went on to say that he wouldn’t accept money from anyone whom Covello prosecuted, stressing that Covello—not him—brought up the issue.
“I’ll tell you what, integrity matters,” Dow said.
He reiterated that sentiment throughout the night.
Covello and Dow lined up on many issues, such as the sensitivity needed in death penalty cases, highlighting their individual management experience, and creating a balance between rehabilitation for the disadvantaged and low-risk offenders, and fiercely prosecuting hardened criminals.
Dow took issue with Covello on that last point, claiming that Covello resisted his efforts to start a special program for veterans in the community—a subject close to Dow’s Army veteran heart.
“I’m telling you, what you just heard was a huge flip flop,” Dow said of Covello’s response about the importance of rehabilitation programs. “… He’s telling you today that he’s for it because he’s suddenly a candidate for district attorney.”
Visibly angered, Covello was forced to wait until the next question and use his response time to counter Dow’s statement.
“I’ve been here 21 years; I’ve never had anyone call me a liar,” Covello snapped. “I’ve never once had somebody challenge my integrity like this.”
In his closing statement, Dow championed his hefty list of endorsements, which includes 23 deputy district attorneys.
“I’ll tell you, leadership matters, style matters,” he said.
Covello, however, characterized Dow as a political shark, who came into the department six years ago and immediately began “saying whatever it is he needs to say.” In direct response to Dow’s endorsements, Covello said the deputy district attorneys are all members of the San Luis Obispo County Government Attorneys’ Union, which has long been embroiled in a battle with county officials over pensions. Covello said he, as a manager in the department, couldn’t affect that case—nor could anyone as it’s an issue between the deputy district attorneys and county administrators. Any promises Dow may have made, Covello said, would be baseless, adding that managers often have to make unpopular decisions.
“That’s not my job as a manager,” he said. “I can’t be everybody’s buddy, and I can’t make them espresso drinks in the afternoon.”
The race will be decided in the June 3 primary.