Tuesday marked the first time in 100 years that an outsider -- Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell -- was elected Los Angeles County Sheriff.
"I look at the opportunity to have some great people inside the organization who have that inside institutional knowledge. But to be able to come in and bring 34 years of experience from Los Angeles County, but not within the sheriff's department, I think that will be helpful," McDonnell said.
McDonnell easily defeated his challenger, Undersheriff and Gardena Mayor Paul Tanka. Tanaka's campaign was largely inactive following a June primary in which McDonnell garnered 49 percent of the vote, nearly winning the majority needed to avoid today's runoff election.
Tanaka had picked up 15 percent in the seven-way primary, but his campaign's subsequent low profile led some to assume he was dropping out. Tanaka declined requests for debates and campaigned primarily online, via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
McDonnell raised $620,000 in campaign donations from July 1 to Oct. 18, as compared with just $27,000 in donations to Tanaka's campaign during the same time period. McDonnell will take over the post vacated by four-term Sheriff Lee Baca, who retired in January amid federal investigations into deputy-on-inmate violence and corruption.
McDonnell was the only outsider who sought the job.
"I think I kind of cleared a path and removed a debris field and allowed a clear shot," said Interim Sheriff John Scott.
A 29-year Los Angeles Police Department veteran who served as second-in- command to then-Chief Bill Bratton, McDonnell 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 during the race.
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.
McDonnell was 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. 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.
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. The election may have been the easiest hurdle for McDonnell to clear.
"My only regret is that for nine months now after hearing good things said about me, that's going to come to an end," McDonnell said during a thank you speech Tuesday.
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.