After a series of scandals at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, an outsider promising to reform the beleaguered agency appears headed for a runoff with a retired undersheriff on Nov. 4.
With 100% of precincts reporting, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, the only major candidate for sheriff without deep ties to the department, got more than three times as many votes as his nearest rival, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, but it was not enough for him to clear the 50% bar and win outright against six other candidates.
McDonnell claimed 49.1% of the vote to Tanaka's 14.7%, according to the L.A. County registrar's office. And it was not immediately clear if there were enough provisional or uncounted absentee ballots to change the outcome.
The race is considered one of the most important in the history of the sheriff's department. Longtime Sheriff Lee Baca abruptly retired in January, a month after federal criminal charges were filed against 18 current and former sheriff's deputies accused of beating jail inmates or trying to obstruct the FBI in an investigation into the county's jail system.
"The results show that the voters, the public, looked at this situation and thought a fresh outside perspective would be beneficial in moving the organization forward," McDonnell said about the preliminary results.
Tanaka's second-place showing comes despite recent disclosures that he remains under federal investigation in connection with an ongoing jails probe. He also faced intense criticism from other candidates, who said he was partly responsible for the problems plaguing the sheriff's department in recent years.
"We feel very confident in the campaign Paul ran," said Reed Galen, a Tanaka spokesman. "As the evening progresses we hope to see the support he's garnered reflected in the results."
For the last century, L.A. County voters have elected a sheriff from inside the department. But in this election, even some insiders in the seven-man field positioned themselves as outsiders.