San Mateo County is one of the few counties in California that still elects its Coroner. To run for this office, one simply needs to be 18 years old and registered to vote. Some certificate training is also beneficial but that can be easily obtained through the State by a course that takes a few weeks.
The Incumbent Coroner, Robert J. Foucrault, will seek his third full term in office this year, but unlike most incumbent elected county administrators, Foucrault has an opponent as well as a record that leaves something to be desired.
Foucrault will face a former Coroner’s Office employee, Stacie Nevares, in the June 8, 2010 Primary Election. Nevares is currently an employee of the University of California, San Francisco Police Department managing personnel policies and media and community relations activities among a variety of ministerial duties.
Prior to her work at UCSF, Nevares was an assistant to the San Mateo Coroner. At the Coroner’s department, she was responsible for all communications and public outreach and helped develop the San Mateo County Homicide Protocol according to her posted biography.
Foucrault has worked in the County Coroner's office since 1992, including positions as Chief Deputy Coroner and Acting Coroner. Foucrault previously worked in various capacities with San Bruno, Millbrae, San Francisco, and San Mateo County. Foucrault was first appointed to the Coroner’s post in 2001 following the death of former Coroner Bud Moorman.
Nevares ran against Foucrault in an ill-fated write-in campaign attempt in 2006 as a protest effort in response to a raft of allegations against Foucrault and his administration just prior to the June 2006 election.
Only weeks before Foucrault’s reelection bid for a second term, the county was rocked by numerous allegations of sexual harassment and a variety of lewd and highly salacious behavior within the department that stretched back many years. The allegations, made primarily by a former deputy coroner, included “…sexual banter, innuendo, decorations of a sexual nature on a birthday cake and teasing about one employee’s sexual orientation” according to one investigator’s report.
Other findings included a birthday cake for an employee that was decorated with a naked woman figurine, the fact that employees accessed adult Internet sites on their work computers and a life-size fake skeleton had breasts drawn on it. Most embarrassingly, Foucrault himself denied a claim by employees that he "mooned" two deputy coroners after hours in 2003 - a claim that was never directly substantiated but one that an investigator concluded likely happened.
Despite the allegations against him, Foucrault won a landslide reelection in 2006 simply because it was just too late in the election cycle for anyone to mount a campaign against him. Four years later, many voters have likely forgotten about the scandal – but not Nevares and perhaps not many in the County’s progressive political faction.
Still, Foucrault’s foibles have not deterred current and former county politicians from actively supporting him, including current San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks, who was himself embroiled in a sex scandal a year later when he was detained by federal and local law enforcement at a Las Vegas brothel in April of 2007, and former San Mateo County political boss Mike Nevin, who both are raising money for Foucrault.
Interestingly, Assemblymember Jerry Hill is also a listed endorser of Foucrault’s. In 2006, while still a County Zupervisor, Hill pulled his endorsement of Foucrault when the news of the sexual harassment first broke, giving no public statement as to why but the implication was clear. In the intervening years, either Hill has changed his mind about Foucrault or the specter of a looming competitive Democratic Primary Election is in the rearview and making the endorsement of an incumbent officeholder - even in this case - is no longer politically risky.
Still, Foucrault has garnered very few endorsements in relative comparison to other local incumbents as many likely still regard the controversial Coroner as politically radioactive.
For her part, Nevares appears to have learned much from her 2006 candidacy and has garnered the endorsement of the San Mateo County Democratic Party and a surprising number of local elected officials such as Daly City Mayor Michael Guingona, San Mateo Union High School District Trustee Dave Pine, and San Mateo City Councilmember David Lim.
Nevares is waging a very public, no holds barred campaign this time around calling Foucrault’s history into question. Currently, she is managing her own campaign, which has been fairly high profiled with the county media as it has generated a large number of new stories regarding the Coroner's race.
Amazingly, Foucrault has received the endorsement of two local newspapers including the Daily Journal and the Daily Post, the only two papers that have even expended the energy on this race to make an endorsement.
Despite Foucrault’s incumbency, the lack of attention on this race may leave the campaign open to the candidate who bothers to actually work. And every time the campaign has been covered - even when Foucrault has been endorsed - the incumbent’s history is rehashed for all to read.
Foucrault should be worried about keeping his job, and for good reason.