Long Beach police Chief Jim McDonnell is the odds-on favorite to be elected today as Los Angeles County’s next sheriff in a run-off against retired Undersheriff and Gardena Mayor Paul Tanaka.
Tanaka’s name is on Tuesday’s ballot, but his campaign has been largely inactive following a June primary in which McDonnell garnered 49 percent of the vote, nearly winning the majority needed to avoid the run-off. Tanaka picked up 15 percent in the seven-way primary race.
Tanaka has raised just $27,000 in campaign donations from July 1 to Oct. 18, according to campaign finance filings. He dismissed campaign staffers and has declined requests for debates since the primary. Most of Tanaka’s efforts to garner votes have been restricted to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
McDonnell has raised $620,000 in the same time period and has been active on the campaign trail, telling reporters he is taking nothing for granted.
Heading into the June primary, McDonnell was the only outsider vying for the post vacated by four-term Sheriff Lee Baca, who retired in January amid federal investigations into deputy-on-inmate violence and corruption.
Tanaka retired from the Sheriff’s Department in 2013 after serving more than 30 years. He had been accused by a civilian review commission of promoting a culture in which sheriff’s deputies went undisciplined for violence against jail inmates.
Tanaka said he had never condoned excessive force and maintained that he was scapegoated by those who did not want to see him succeed Baca as sheriff.
While testifying in the federal trial of another deputy, however, Tanaka acknowledged that he was under investigation as part of a continuing federal probe into the county jails.
McDonnell, a 29-year Los Angeles Police Department veteran who served as second-in-command to then-Chief Bill Bratton, seeks big changes for the embattled department.
“I look forward to ushering in a new era at LASD, continuing to move the department beyond past problems and restoring the trust of the community,” McDonnell said.
McDonnell told civil rights advocates he would support a citizens’ commission to oversee the department, but has not yet decided whether he would back subpoena power for such a group.
Tanaka has stressed his commitment to public safety. A Twitter account maintained by Tanaka’s campaign posted a YouTube video Sunday with the hashtag #VoteNov4.
“Every citizen from the Antelope Valley to the South Bay has a fundamental right to live in a neighborhood where you feel safe and secure,” Tanaka says in the campaign ad. “It is the responsibility of law enforcement to provide you with that environment. I have a proven track record for fighting crime.”
McDonnell is endorsed by all five members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck. Interim Sheriff John Scott added his endorsement Wednesday.
“He is the right person, at the right time, to take the leadership role and re-build this department,” Scott said.
Since the primary, Tanaka’s only newly published endorsement is from former sheriff’s candidate and retired Lt. Patrick Gomez. The Oct. 8 announcement, on Tanaka’s website, notes that Gomez joins current and retired LASD captains, police chiefs and Roy Burns, the former president of the union that represents the department’s rank and file, in backing the former undersheriff.
Tuesday’s election may be the easiest hurdle for the new sheriff to clear. The Department of Justice has said it will seek federal court oversight of the jails based on the treatment of mentally ill inmates. A half-dozen deputies have already been convicted of obstruction of justice for hiding an inmate witness from the FBI, and other indictments are pending for corruption and civil rights abuses.