What happened to LA Sheriff candidate Paul Tanaka?

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The once bustling campaign headquarters of Paul Tanaka, tucked in the middle of a Torrance strip mall is empty now.  No volunteers busily calling voters, no campaign signs stacked high. No Tanaka buzzing around, giving orders and thanking people. One of the agents at the State Farm Insurance office next door says Tanaka’s people decamped about a month ago.  

KPCC calls and emails to both the would-be sheriff’s campaign manager and chief fundraiser went unreturned. His campaign consultant during the primary election, Reed Galen, said he no longer works for Tanaka. He did not elaborate.

Tanaka, a former undersheriff who finished second in the primary, has not returned numerous calls this week or responded to emails. He didn't appear to be home at his Gardena residence on Friday afternoon.

The last activity from Tanaka’s Twitter account was on primary election day, June 3:

Last tweet

The last post on Tanaka's Facebook account was a message to his supporters that went up the day after the election.

Tanaka Facebook post

The most recent post on Tanaka's campaign website was June 5, when he thanked supporters. He has no upcoming events listed on the website.

Tanaka garnered just 15 percent of the vote in the primary, a distant second to Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell's 49 percent of the vote.

“I think his best strategy is to shut down, don’t spend any money, and go on vacation,” said Fernando Guerra, a political scientist who heads the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University and a KPCC board member. “He doesn’t have a snowball's chance.”

Tanaka, who spent 32 years with the sheriff’s department, was once one of the most powerful people in law enforcement in Southern California. As undersheriff, he virtually ran the sprawling department under Sheriff Lee Baca. But Tanaka’s star fell amid scathing criticism from a citizens' panel that said he condoned violence against jail inmates and failed to hold deputies accountable for misconduct. He’s denied the accusations.

Tanaka has acknowleged that he remains a subject in the ongoing federal investigation into civil rights violations and corruption at the Sheriff’s Department. Twenty-one current and former sheriff officials have been charged. Six have been convicted.

McDonnell has won key support from the entire Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and the union that represents 9,000 rank and file deputy sheriffs.

The county Registrar of Voters is expected to release fundraising totals in the next few days. A spokesman for McDonnell said the campaign raised about $200,000 during the last reporting period, from May 18 to June 30. In all, the campaign has raised about $960,000 and had $104,000 cash on hand, according to spokesman Steve Barkan.

“Until we figure out what Tanaka’s doing, we are going full steam ahead,” said Barkan. He noted Tanaka’s name appears on the November ballot – whether or not he campaigns.

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