Election 2014: Former competitors back Jim McDonnell for LA Sheriff

Los Angeles County Sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell greets supporters at his election gathering at the JW Marriott in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday night, June 3.
Los Angeles County Sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell greets supporters at his election gathering at the JW Marriott in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday night, June 3.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Two candidates for Los Angeles County Sheriff who didn't make the November runoff election  have thrown their support behind candidate Jim McDonnell, who currently serves as chief of the Long Beach Police Department.

"I respect the voters decision, and they made a great choice with Jim McDonnell," Jim Helmold, an assistant L.A. sheriff, said Wednesday.

He and sheriff's candidate Bob Olmsted, who came in third and fourth Tuesday, both picked McDonnell over former L.A. County undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who came in second to win a place in the runoff - assuming percentages continue to hold as officials count provisional ballots.

RELATED: KPCC's full coverage of the June 2014 primary

McDonnell received 49 percent of the vote, just shy of the 50.1 percent required to win outright.

"At this point, Jim is the absolute best candidate," said Olmsted, a former sheriff's captain.

Olmstead ran on a reform platform, pointing out problems of violence and mismanagement in L.A. county jails.

Federal agents have arrested 20 current and former members of the sheriff's department on charges ranging from inmate abuse and excessive force to obstruction of justice.

During one recent court proceeding, Tanaka — who oversaw the jails at one point, but not during the time of the alleged abuses — was told he's under investigation for obstruction of justice.

"He would just exacerbate the entire problem," Olmsted said. "He's just not good for the organization."

Tanaka declined to be interviewed, but said in a statement he looks forward to engaging McDonnell on the county’s most pressing public safety issues. In the past, he said he did nothing wrong while serving as the second in command of the sheriff's department. 

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, professor of the practice of public policy communication at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, said a lot of unknowns remain about the upcoming McDonnell-Tanaka race.

First off, she said, of the five sheriff's department insider candidates, only Tanaka remains.

"Will that have an impact on the general election?" Jeffe asked. 

Tanaka's consultant, Reed Galen said Wednesday the race will "reset" itself now that the top two candidates have emerged. 

A reintroduction needed

"Both candidates will have to reintroduce themselves to an electorate who, unfortunately, chose in large part not to participate yesterday," Galen wrote in an email.

Only 13 percent of registered voters in L.A. County turned out Tuesday. McDonnell garnered 10 percent of his votes from his home city of Long Beach. Those numbers may not hold on November 4.

"We are pretty sure that the general election electorate is going to look a lot more democratic, may not look a lot more Long Beach," Jeffe said. "Will that have an impact? I don't know."

On Tuesday night, McDonnell said he was encouraged by the election results.

"There's an opportunity here to bring a fresh set of eyes to the organization, to give a fresh perspective that those who've come up through the ranks may not see," McDonnell said. "Those who voted - and the way they voted - are looking for that outside perspective. They want a fresh start."

Raphe Sonenshein, Executive Director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at CSU Los Angeles, is skeptical of Tanaka's chances.

"Tanaka is way behind, and he's way behind not just in numbers but in arguments," Sonenshein told KPCC's Airtalk. "He's the perfect punching bag for a reform candidate."

In a statement, Tanaka said the "campaign is far from over, in fact it has just begun. We always knew this would be a two-phase race, and we start again today. "