Incumbent Doña Ana County District Attorney Mark D’Antonio held off challenger James Dickens in the Democratic primary on Tuesday in spite of Dickens’ claims that D’Antonio has been soft on crime and failed to adequately prosecute cases.
With all polling places reporting, D’Antonio won 59 percent of the vote in the Third Judicial District Attorney Democratic primary to Dickens’ 41 percent.
“It was a difference in philosophy,” D’Antonio said earlier in the evening, before results were final, at his watch party, which was held at the campaign headquarters for Merrie Lee Soules, the Democratic candidate for New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District seat in the U.S. House.
The atmosphere was light even before any results came in, but became more energetic throughout the night as supporters filed in. State Sen. Joseph Cervantes was among those making an appearance to check in the numbers.
D’Antonio will face Republican Brad Cates, a former state and federal prosecutor and state representative, in November. While D’Antonio and Dickens lobbed allegations and even formal ethics complaints at each other during the primary, Cates has faced his own controversy over racy photos on his business website that led some New Mexican Republicans to withdraw their support.
Dickens and D’Antonio clashed on several fronts during the primary, with Dickens shining a harsh light on D’Antonio’s rate of pleading out, dismissing and losing cases. On the day he defeated Dickens, D’Antonio’s office was hit with a mistrial in the murder case against Tai Chan, a police officer accused of gunning down fellow officer Jeremy Martin. But D’Antonio said he was committed to seeing the case through to a conclusion.
“All jurors agreed to convict Tai Chan but could not agree to which degree of criminal homicide,” D’Antonio said in a statement to the media. “We plan on retrying the case as soon as the court can set a date and will continue to pursue the best result for Jeremy Martin and his family.”
Dickens was optimistic earlier Tuesday evening, surrounded by friends and family at his home. His tone changed after the results came in.
“I couldn’t be happier with the enthusiasm that I was met with when I walked in the community, talked to victims, met with law enforcement. Obviously this did not translate into a winning campaign,” said Dickens, a prosecutor in the 12th Judicial District based in Alamogordo whose boss there David Ceballes lost his own Republican primary on Tuesday.
“But this campaign was never about me — it was standing up for the victims and the victims’ rights in the community, so they know that somebody was supporting them,” Dickens said.
At D’Antonio’s watch party, supporters were happy to see D’Antonio in the lead. “There was a lot of bickering back and forth,” said Art Archuleta, who voted for D’Antonio. “But Mark had to do a lot to clean up the mess that was there (in the DA’s office before he was elected in 2012) and now he’s really getting his momentum.”
Archuleta said he and his wife Cecelia believe D’Antonio made the effort to get out to communities like Tortugas, where they live.