Lee Baca

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announces at a news conference earlier this month that he will retire instead of seeking a fifth term. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times / January 7, 2014)

The candidates vying to replace Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca rolled out more endorsements this week.

Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold, who is set to formally announce his candidacy Wednesday, secured the endorsement of civil rights activist Connie Rice. Rice is expected to introduce him when he makes his announcement outside the storied First African Methodist Episcopal Church in South L.A.

In an interview with The Times, Rice said she’s backing Hellmold because of all the candidates, she’s had the longest relationship with him.

“He was a reformer before it was cool to be a reformer, just like Baca,” she said, lauding Hellmold for getting the Sheriff’s Department to work more closely with gang interventionists.

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 successors.

Meanwhile, Paul Tanaka, Baca’s ousted former top aide, rolled out his fourth endorsement from a county sheriff. He now has the support of the sheriffs of Santa Barbara, Napa, Mendocino and Alameda counties – along with a string of local City Council members who have backed him.

The support for Tanaka comes despite criticism the former undersheriff has faced from current and former sheriff’s supervisors who have described him as fostering bad behavior and placing loyalty above merit. A blue ribbon commission created by the county found him and Baca responsible for the department’s inmate abuse scandal.

Many of the big-name endorsements have gone to another candidate in the race: Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell. The former high-ranking LAPD official entered the race earlier this month boasting a long list of supporters, including Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, her predecessor Steve Cooley and Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck.

Rice said she doesn’t expect to endorse anyone other than Hellmold, but called some of the other candidates in the race “excellent” – specifically naming Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers and retired Sheriff's Cmdr. Bob Olmsted.

Retired Sheriff's Lt. Patrick Gomez and Los Angeles Police Det. Lou Vince are also running.

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Twitter: RobertFaturechi

robert.faturechi@latimes.com