Long Beach police Chief Jim McDonnell fell just short of the number of votes needed in Tuesday's primary election to avoid a November runoff, setting up a November contest against former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka to determine who will be Los Angeles County's next sheriff.
McDonnell was the lone outsider in the seven-candidate primary field. Under California's open primary rules, the top two vote-getters advance to a November runoff if no candidate receives the required number of votes to win outright.
McDonnell garnered 49 percent (264,104) of the vote, Tanaka (79,189) was second with 15 percent of the vote.
The winner will take on the job of reforming the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which has been under fire over the management of the jail system and faced federal indictments, after the retirement of Sheriff Lee Baca. At an election-night party Tuesday, McDonnell compared stepping into the role of sheriff to a corporate turnaround in which new management is recruited from outside the company.
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"They don't reach down into the organization to replace the CEO," McDonnell told NBC4.
McDonnell was endorsed by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer and California Attorney General Kamala Harris. He also has the backing of four of the five county supervisors who control the department's budget: Michael Antonovich, Gloria Molina, Zev Yaroslavsky and Don Knabe, who appointed McDonnell to serve on the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence in 2011.
Tanaka, who is the mayor of Gardena, spent more than 30 years in the Sheriff's Department and was second-in-command to Baca. He was blamed by the Citizens' Commission in a 2012 report for promoting an environment in which aggressive deputies went undisciplined for violence against inmates.
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Tanaka (pictured, right) has called the commission's findings an attack on his character and said its sources lied to prevent Tanaka from becoming sheriff. He also positioned himself as a reformer during the campaign.
"If I'm the top cop in Los Angeles County, things would be a lot different," Tanaka said Tuesday night. "The orders I give would be clear, consistent and sensible. People would be held accountable."
When a federal prosecutor confirmed in late May that Tanaka was the subject of an ongoing federal probe, some of his rivals called on him to step out of the race. Tanaka refused, saying he'd leave the choice to voters.
Tanaka retired from his post in 2013.
Baca, a four-term sheriff, retired in January while under fire for deputy-on-inmate violence in county jails and charges of corruption within his department. Eighteen sheriff's deputies were indicted in an ongoing federal investigation that has implicated at least two additional deputies to date.
Interim Sheriff John Scott will head the department until December.
Assistant Sheriffs Todd Rogers and James Hellmold, LAPD Senior Detective Supervisor Lou Vince, retired sheriff's Cmdr. Bob Olmsted and retired sheriff's Lt. Patrick Gomez split the balance of the votes.