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Politics, government and public life for Southern California

LA Sheriff’s Race: Yaroslavsky endorses McDonnell, but does it matter?

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Declaring the Sheriff’s Department “in crisis,” one of LA’s best-known leaders Monday said only Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell has the “clean slate” necessary to lead reforms at the agency.

“When you have somebody who comes in from the outside, they are not tied to any faction within the department,” LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told a morning news conference. Five of the six other candidates running for sheriff are either current or former sheriff’s officials.

Yaroslavsky said McDonnell, a former LAPD Assistant Chief, led changes at that department. “He’s got experience reforming troubled departments,” he said. McDonnell also sat on the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.

McDonnell thanked Yaroslavsky and described a "catastrophic failure of leadership" at the sheriff's department.

The agency faces multiple FBI investigations into alleged civil rights violations and corruption. A grand jury has indicted 20 current or former sheriff's officials. A Los Angeles Times investigation found the department hired nearly 188 deputies who were rejected for jobs at other law enforcement agencies, and that investigators found evidence of dishonesty among nearly 100 of the hires.

Why should voters take the endorsement advice of Yaroslavsky? After all, he repeatedly endorsed former Sheriff Lee Baca before his sudden resignation in January amid mounting problems.

“I spent time a lot of time personally with Lee trying to guide him,” Yaroslavsky maintained. He also noted that the sheriff is independently elected, and not beholden to the board of supervisors.

Yaroslavsky’s endorsement could be helpful to McDonnell, according to Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles. His district includes Hancock Park, Santa Monica and parts of the San Fernando Valley.

“Zev’s endorsement is always extremely valuable, and could help mightily in the San Fernando Valley and on the Westside,” Sonenshein said.

At the same time, endorsements “may get washed out a bit” in countywide races, he said. Backing that comes with money is more important, including organizational endorsements.

The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the powerful union that represents rank and file deputies, is not expected to endorse a candidate in the primary election, according to a source familiar with its endorsement process.

The LA County Federation of Labor, another major player in county politics, also has declined to endorse in the primary.

The Los Angeles County Democratic Party holds an endorsement meeting Wednesday. And endorsement committee was unable to decide among the three Democrats in the race: Assistant Sheriff James Hellmold, former Sheriff’s Lt. Patrick Gomez and LAPD Det. Lou Vince.  One of them would need to garner 60 percent of the delegates at Wednesday’s meeting to win the party’s backing.

The other candidates in the race include Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and former Sheriff's Commander Bob Olmsted.

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