Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell entered the race to become Los Angeles County sheriff on Monday, boasting a number of heavyweight endorsements, including the county's current and former district attorneys.
McDonnell, who served as second in command to Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton before moving to Long Beach, enters an increasingly crowded field seeking to replace Lee Baca, who last week made the surprise announcement that he would end his reelection campaign and retire at the end of the month.
With his high-profile backers and distance from the scandals that have mired the Sheriff's Department, political observers say McDonnell should be considered one of the front-runners in a race.
Last year, after publicly weighing a run, McDonnell said he would not enter the race because the task of fundraising for a countywide election would have taken him away from his family and his duties in Long Beach. With no incumbent in the race any longer, McDonnell changed his mind.
He announced his candidacy in a press release Monday afternoon that declared "broad, bipartisan and law enforcement support." Among those listed as already endorsing him are Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, her predecessor Steve Cooley and Police Chief Charlie Beck.
In an interview with The Times, McDonnell said that entering the race last year would have forced him to put his duties in Long Beach "in second place" for a prolonged period. But now, he said, he would only have to simultaneously campaign and serve as police chief there for a few months — an endeavor that he said city leaders support.
McDonnell was on a county commission that blasted Baca's leadership after the jail abuse scandal, depicting him as a disengaged and uninformed manager who failed to stop jailhouse abuse and would have been fired in the private sector.
With Baca out of the race, McDonnell poached one of his biggest backers — Cooley — and hired the outgoing sheriff's political consultant.
Amid a string of scandals, Baca announced last week that he would be transferring powers to an interim sheriff by the end of the month, and not running for a fifth term. McDonnell said that if he were elected he would address the problems under Baca's tenure, including jail abuse, poor hiring and a lack of accountability among supervisors.
"You have an organization of 18,000 people and the vast majority are working very hard and doing a good job but we need to retool the culture," he said.
McDonnell has eyed higher office before. He was a finalist to replace Bratton, but lost out to Beck. Seven years earlier, as a candidate for LAPD chief in 2002, McDonnell presented a blueprint for community-based policing that was later adopted by Bratton and served as the foundation for overhauling the organization in the wake of the Rampart corruption scandal.
During his tenure with the LAPD, McDonnell was given the task of helping the department build bridges with the city's diverse communities and political leaders. Colleagues within the LAPD have described him as a gracious, well-liked leader.
McDonnell, a Boston native who has lived in Los Angeles County for more than three decades, said he will not be stepping down as Long Beach police chief while he runs for sheriff — instead working there a couple days week and being on call for emergencies, but otherwise focusing on the race.
McDonnell enters what is shaping up to be a crowded field, but he said he stands out because he is the only one to have run a law enforcement agency. Several current and former sheriff's officials — including Baca's ousted top aide, Paul Tanaka — have already announced their candidacy, and at least one other candidate from outside the department is also expected to be on the June ballot.
"Being an outside candidate is a plus because I come with a fresh set of eyes — no history or alliances within the department," McDonnell said.
Board of Supervisor Chairman Don Knabe said he has known McDonnell for 25 years, and has been encouraging him to run for sheriff.
"He's one of these guys that's obviously full of integrity, honest, a cop's cop. The troops love him," Knabe said. "He does a great job of community outreach with all the various ethnic groups. He's just an absolutely nice person."
"I think Jim is a serious candidate. He's an accomplished police administrator with a lot of experience and he will be a formidable candidate in this election," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. "He certainly is a front-runner if not the front-runner."
Retired Sheriff's Cmdr. Bob Olmsted, a former jail supervisor who spoke out about inmate abuse and is also running for sheriff, dismissed McDonnell's candidacy Monday, labeling him a political opportunist for jumping into the race after Baca dropped out.
One of Baca's top deputies, Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers, entered the race the day Baca pulled out.
Another assistant sheriff, Jim Hellmold, said last week that he's also considering a run.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times