Jim Hellmold, a 25-year department veteran who rose from Baca's driver to assistant sheriff, is one of two department insiders Baca said would be strong replacements.
Hellmold, who is well-liked among the rank and file, recently sought to distance himself from the beleaguered sheriff, saying publicly that it was time for Baca to step down.
In an interview Thursday, Hellmold said that as sheriff he would focus on building public trust and fighting crime, with a stronger focus on cybercrime.
"It's going to be the new issue facing us in the coming decades," he said.
Hellmold characterized himself as a "crime-fighter, not a politician" and said he was more interested in building community support than big-name endorsements.
After Baca announced he was stepping down, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell entered the race with just that, boasting a long list of supporters, including Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, her predecessor Steve Cooley and Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck.
With his high-profile backers and distance from the scandals that have mired the Sheriff's Department, political observers say McDonnell should be considered a front-runner. McDonnell was also part of the county blue ribbon commission that blamed Baca for the agency's inmate abuse scandal. On Thursday, the director of that group said the members of the commission would be reuniting Friday to endorse McDonnell.
Although Hellmold, 46, is a self-described "company man" at the Sheriff's Department, he is promising to reform the agency. In recent years, he burnished those credentials by serving on a special commanders panel Baca created to reform the jails in response to the inmate abuse scandal.
As a captain, Hellmold was a perennial favorite in the deputy union's member-voted ratings.
Hellmold said he was going to formally announce his candidacy in front of the storied First African Methodist Episcopal Church in South L.A. on Friday. But he said he decided to delay his announcement to next week out of respect for the evacuees, firefighters and deputies affected by the Colby fire.
Sources within the Sheriff's Department have said that with Baca packing up his belongings and cleaning out his office, and two of his top aides angling to replace him, the mood at headquarters has been tense.
Retired Sheriff's Lt. Patrick Gomez and Los Angeles Police Det. Lou Vince are also running.