Son of Leon Panetta considering run for
Published: March 22, 2013
THE MONTEREY Peninsula’s
political landscape experienced a seismic shift this week when
county deputy district attorney James Panetta — son of former
Defense Secretary, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
and Congressman Leon Panetta — confirmed he is considering a run
for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Many local Democrats have their eye on the seat occupied by Sam Farr, 71, who succeeded the elder Panetta in Congress in 1993.
In an extensive interview with The Pine Cone from his Salinas
office, James Panetta talked affectionately about giving back to
the community — one of many values he said his grandfather,
Carmelo, instilled in him.
“My grandfather came here from Italy and always said, ‘Give
back to your community and country which has given us so much,’”
Panetta, who served in the Navy reserves for nearly nine years and was awarded a Bronze Star while on active duty in Afghanistan in 2008, said he may decide to run for the congressional seat now occupied by Farr and previously occupied by Leon Panetta for 16 years.
“I’ve talked to people about it, and it’s something I’m
seriously considering,” the younger Panetta said.
‘Knew in my heart’
A 43-year-old graduate of Carmel High School (class of
1987), Panetta moved back to the Monterey Peninsula three years
ago after working as a deputy district attorney in Alameda
County for 13 years. His wife, Carrie, is an Alameda County
Superior Court judge, and the couple has two girls, ages 6 and
“Even though I was gone up in Oakland and was doing my job
there, I always knew in my heart that this is where I’ll be,” he
said. “Part of the reason I came home was to serve my
But Panetta said he won’t commit to running for the
representative seat until Farr retires.
“Sam is doing an excellent job, and until he decides to step
aside, that decision won’t be made,” he said.
His father told The Pine Cone Thursday he supports his son’s
aspiration to run for office.
“First and foremost, Sylvia and I are proud of all three of our
sons — two lawyers and a doctor,” Leon Panetta told The Pine
Cone Thursday morning. “As for Jim, he has always been
interested in public service as long as I can remember.”
Though James Panetta has closely followed in his father’s
footsteps, and has often asked him for advice concerning his
career, Leon said his son has also helped steer him in the right
“Frankly, I have always looked to Jim to give me a sense of
what the hell I’m doing,” he said, laughing.
Panetta was a Naval intelligence officer in the Joint Special
Operations Command when he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2007
to 2008. His duties included providing counterintelligence to
special forces, including Navy SEALS. He was awarded a Bronze
Star for “meritorious service,” before leaving the reserves in
2011. Specifically, he was lauded for “identifying and tracking
high-value Al Qaeda targets” in the Afghanistan War, according
to a Naval Postgraduate School publication.
As a result of his military history, and the fact he’s a strong
advocate for veterans, Panetta said as a congressman, he would
highlight “the men and women who served our country.” Based on
his role as a prosecutor assigned to the gang unit, he’d also
focus on public safety, gun control and crime prevention.
And with roots firmly attached to the Monterey Peninsula,
Panetta said he would do what’s possible to help young families
without a lot of money to live here.
“Based on the fact I grew up here,” he said, “I’ll be dedicated
to protecting the beauty of [the area], but also providing a
balance so people have the opportunity to live here and raise
their families here, like we did.”
Already lining up
Panetta — who sits on a half-dozen boards and committees,
including the Veterans Transition Center and Rancho Cielo —
already has the backing of many local leaders.
“Jimmy has his dad’s commitment to service and
his intellectual curiosity, plus his charm,
integrity and character,” according to Carmel City
Councilman Ken Talmage. “Leon Panetta is one of the great public
servants of our generation. The apple hasn’t fallen far from the
While Farr was reelected in November 2012 and will serve for
another two years, vice chair of government affairs for the
Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce J. Fagan said he believes
Panetta is the man to succeed him.
“So, when the time comes that the 20th District opens — if you
are asking is JP our guy, you betcha!” Fagan said.
Fagan said Panetta shares Farr’s devotion and concern for the
community and the people he serves.
“That’s the magic, the good stuff,” Fagan said, “the quality
that separates the politician from the revered leader, and James
Panetta has this in spades.”
Though there’s been lots of speculation that Carmel Mayor Jason
Burnett might try to succeed Farr, Burnett said that for now,
he’s concentrating on serving Carmel and spending time with wife
and young son, Sebastian.
“What I’ve always said is that I’m focused on being mayor, and
I do plan on running for mayor again a year from now,” Burnett
told The Pine Cone. “I don’t have any other plans. And even more
to the point, at this stage, primarily because of my family, I
want to be able to be home every morning and every evening to be
Childhood friend Paul Lecce recalled the early days when he and
Panetta played baseball, football and generally hung out
together in Carmel Valley, where they both lived.
“You know what I like most about him is, he is a genuine guy,”
Lecce said. “He’s honest, loyal and has always been a good
Panetta was also the “only kid who could bench-press 300-plus
pounds,” Lecce added. “Nobody could out-muscle him. He was too
Vinz Koller, chair of the Monterey County Democratic Party,
said while he wishes Farr would “never retire,” there are
several “terrific” local Democrats in the wings who could take
“Jimmy Panetta is one of them,” Koller said. “If he were to
decide to run, he’d certainly be a very strong candidate. He’s
highly qualified and a great guy.”