Peterson controversy stuns local leaders

By Peggy Spear on June 19, 2017

Mark-Peterson-for websiteLocal political leaders reacted with sadness and disbelief after District Attorney Mark Peterson — a longtime Concord City Council member and mayor — resigned amidst an embezzlement scandal.

Peterson resigned June 14 after being charged with 13 felony counts related to his admitted misuse of campaign funds. He pled no contest to the charges that he illegally spent more than $66,000 in campaign contributions for his personal use. Last month, a county grand jury formally accused him of willful misconduct and urged he be removed as D.A.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Concord Mayor Laura Hoffmeister. “It’s unfortunate he made mistakes — it’s disappointing to me personally, and to the community.

“It floored me,” Hoffmeister continued. “It is so out of character for him.”

Hoffmeister served with Peterson on the council from 1997 until Peterson resigned in 2010 after being elected D.A.

Former City Council member and Mayor Dan Helix — who was appointed to fill Peterson’s spot on the council after Peterson won the D.A. race — also reacted with disappointment, but showed his respect for Peterson.

“Mark Peterson has been a dedicated, superb public servant,” Helix said. “I respect his dedication to his work. Regretfully, each of us, at times, has suffered the scald of irony when our paradoxical actions compel the introspective conclusion: bad judgment. Mark is paying dearly for his temporary lapse. I thank him for his service and wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Peterson was first elected to the city council in 1994, and was a strong voice for the development of the city. As a deputy district attorney, his council colleagues said he brought a sense of balance to the dais. That’s why his resignation in disgrace is so surprising to many.

“It is difficult to express my profound sadness for those many individuals and groups that supported him,” said Council Member Edi Birsan, who never served with Peterson.

Other sitting council candidates contacted for this article, including Tim McGallian and Carlyn Obringer, chose not to comment on Peterson’s resignation.

On June 14, Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Theresa Canepa sentenced Peterson to 250 hours of community service and three years of probation, during which time he is barred from running for office. It is unclear who will take over for him at press time, but Deputy District Attorney Doug McMaster, Peterson’s hand-picked second-in-command, is a likely candidate.

The state Attorney General’s Office filed 12 counts of perjury and one count of grand theft against Peterson on the same day he was due to be arraigned in Contra Costa County Superior Court to face a civil grand jury accusation that his conduct amounted to “willful or corrupt misconduct in office.”

Hours later, Peterson pled no contest to a single count of perjury and resigned from office. His attorney has been quoted as calling the ordeal “A Shakespearean tragedy.”

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