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Sheriff Candidates Debate at Santa Monica's Church in Ocean Park

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Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Daniel Larios
Staff Writer

April 24, 2014 -- Six candidates vying to replace embattled L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca will square off against each other in Santa Monica Thursday.

The Los Angeles League of Women Voter’s will host the Los Angeles County Sheriff Candidate Forum April 24 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Church in Ocean Park located on 235 Hill.

Six of the seven candidates competing to run L.A. County’s powerful and scandal-ridden sheriff’s department will have a chance talk to voters in Thursday’s debate, the second moderated by the Los Angeles League of Women Voters.

“Many people don't know that the sheriff is an elected official whose entire department hugely impacts the lives of millions of county residents,” League officials said.

Sheriff’s deputies not only patrol 42 of L.A. County’s 88 incorporated cities, they also staff County jails, secures courthouses, community colleges, government buildings, parks, marinas and the vast network of buses and trains operated by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Metrolink.

Currently, the Department is run by interim Sheriff John L. Scott. Baca stepped down in January after the Sheriff’s Department -- the largest in the country -- was rocked by a federal investigation that led to the arrest of 18 deputies charged with corruption and civil rights abuses.

The question of how to reform the Department with its $2.8 billion annual budget and 17,000 employees will be front and center in the debates.

“Every day, Los Angeles residents interact with the Sheriff’s Department in some capacity,” they said. “This debate will help voters understand the kinds of policies, changes, and markers the current sheriff candidates plan to instate.”

The Candidates

James McDonnell, widely considered to be the frontrunner in the race, spent most of his career at the Los Angeles Police Department. There, he was second-in-command to former Chief William Bratton.

He is currently serving as chief of police at the Long Beach Police Department and has the backing of major political figures, including Attorney General Kamala Harris, LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Supervisor Don Knabe and retiring Supervisor Zev Yarolsavsky.

Paul Tanaka is currently the Mayor of Gardena and was once former sheriff Lee Baca’s undersheriff.  The only registered Republican in the race, Tanaka is also a certified public accountant and served as the department’s budget manager.

Todd Rogers serves as Assistant Sheriff in charge of the department’s budget and personnel and is also the Mayor of the city of Lakewood. Rogers is positioning himself as the reform candidate, running on a platform of making the jails more humane jails and the Department, which has little independent oversight, more transparent.

His campaign drew some attention with commercials starring the cast of popular Comedy Central show Reno 911. His endorsements include Congresswoman Linda Sanchez and a slew of mayors and councilmembers from the east L.A. County.

Assistant Sheriff James Hellmold is in charge of the patrol and detective divisions of the Sheriff’s Department. Hellmold is campaigning as a community leader, touting his ties with local service organizations. He is endorsed by the Los Angeles Democratic Veterans and Civil Rights Attorney Connie Rice

Retired Sheriff’s Department Commander Robert Olmsted is also running as a reform candidate, using his whistleblower past to distinguish himself in the race. Olmsted instigated the federal investigation that eventually led to Baca’s retirement when in 2011, he went to the FBI after Baca refused to do anything about a problematic captain at the men’s central jail.

Retired Sheriff’s Department Lt. Patrick Gomez ran against Baca in 1998 and 2002. He once sued the department for denying him promotions and harassing his family, allegedly because he challenged Baca. He ended up winning a nearly $1 million payout.

LAPD Senior Detective Supervisor Lou Vince is a former Marine who also volunteered in the Sheriff’s Department as a reserve deputy sheriff for four years. He holds a Master’s degree in criminology and currently serves as a councilmember in the town of Agua Dulce, which is located northeast of Santa Clarita. He is endorsed by the Democratic Alliance for Action, the Stonewall Democrats, and Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains.

The seven candidates will all appear on the June 3 primary ballot, but only the top two vote-getters will advance to the November General Election.

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