Jackie Lacey, her husband David Lacey and Steve Cooley take the stage as Lacey held her election night party at Historic Union Station in downtown Los
Jackie Lacey, her husband David Lacey and Steve Cooley take the stage as Lacey held her election night party at Historic Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. (John McCoy / Staff Photographer)

Jackie Lacey made history Tuesday night, becoming the first African-American and first female chief prosecutor of Los Angeles County.

Lacey, the chief deputy district attorney, won with a substantial lead over Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson Tuesday in the race to succeed District Attorney Steve Cooley.

By midnight, Lacey had all but officially declared victory and packed up her election night party at Union Station downtown.

As of 6 a.m. Wednesday, with 95 percent of precincts reporting, Lacey had 55 percent of the vote, to Jackson's 45 percent.

"When I started out in the justice system, it was thought to be almost impossible for someone of color to be in charge of the largest local prosecutor's office in the nation," Lacey said in an interview Tuesday night.

"The fact that voters are choosing the most qualified candidate, and that she happens to be a woman, and happens to be African American, affirms our democracy," she added.


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As district attorney, she said she will install her own leadership team, and will expand the office's focus on alternative sentencing courts in an effort to reduce recidivism and ease jail overcrowding.

"I think my mission will be to make sure that all communities are safe," she added.

"I live in a great community in Granada Hills where people walk at night, but not every community is as safe as that. I grew up in the Crenshaw District in the '70s when gangs were prevalent and I want to make sure that all children and all people who live throughout L.A. county from the Antelope Valley to Long Beach are in a safe community."

Los Angeles District Attorney candidate Alan Jackson election night at Elevate Lounge in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday, Nov. 6th, 2012.
Los Angeles District Attorney candidate Alan Jackson election night at Elevate Lounge in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday, Nov. 6th, 2012. (Hans Gutknecht / Staff Photographer)

Incumbent District Attorney Steve Cooley, who endorsed Lacey, said: "She knows what she's doing and she will take her skills and her fabulous, fabulous personality and her many years as a great prosecutor to the DA's Office."

During the campaign, Jackson argued he would be the best candidate because he had more recent courtroom experience, while Lacey countered that while she also had time in the courtroom, the position required the management experience that she also had.

Earlier Tuesday night, when Lacey had taken a lead but many votes remained to be counted, Jackson said: "I wish Ms. Lacey absolutely the best because I know she is seeking the office, hopefully, to better the community. I just believe in my heart of hearts that I can do a better job at this than she can."

Lacey - Cooley's second-in-command - had garnered the most votes in the June primary and had a substantial fundraising advantage going into the runoff.

The 55-year-old Democrat rose through the ranks to become Cooley's chief deputy. When he announced his plans to retire after serving three terms, he backed Lacey as his successor.

As a prosecutor, she successfully tried the county's first race-based hate crime murder against three Nazi Low Riders, among other high-profile cases.

As an administrator, she helped create alternative sentencing courts, which gives women, veterans, drug offenders and the mentally ill a chance to enter treatment instead of jail.

Jackson is assistant head deputy of the major crimes division. He prosecuted the high-profile murder case against Phil Spector and the alleged mastermind in the killing of race-car driver Mickey Thompson and his wife.

As candidates, both Lacey and Jackson promised to expand Alternative Sentencing Courts and the Public Integrity Unit, which investigates government corruption.

They also vowed to invest more resources to fight gang crimes, environmental crimes and high-tech crimes.

The nation's largest local prosecutorial office, with almost 1,000 attorneys, 300 peace officers and 800 support staff, has an adopted budget of $328 million.

The transition to new leadership coincides with dramatic changes in the way the county handles crime and punishment.

With overcrowding in prisons and jails, there is a movement toward so-called alternative sentences so that low-risk offenders have a chance to get substance abuse or mental health treatment, and learn skills that could help prevent them from re-offending.

christina.villacorte@dailynews.com

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