Another challenger has joined the race to unseat Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.
Patrick Gomez – a newly retired sheriff’s lieutenant who has twice run for sheriff unsuccessfully – announced his candidacy this week. The three-decade department veteran joins a little-known LAPD detective, who has also said he’s running.
The most formidable potential challengers – Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell and Baca’s outgoing top aide, Paul Tanaka – have said they’re interested in running but haven’t made final decisions about the 2014 race.
During the last election, Baca won a fourth term unchallenged. But he has faced a string of scandals in recent years, and the FBI is investigating abuse in his jails and other misconduct. A blue ribbon commission concluded Baca was a disengaged and uninformed manager who failed to control his deputies. And the sheriff has faced allegations that he pushed subordinates to hire friends and relatives, even when they weren’t fit for the positions.
Baca has responded by shaking up his management team and implementing a sweeping set of reforms aimed at improving oversight, accountability and deputy conduct.
Despite the problems he has faced, experts have said knocking the well-known incumbent from his post would be a challenge.
Gomez, a former union president, first ran for sheriff in 1998, failing to make the runoff Baca won to first become sheriff. Gomez challenged Baca in 2002 and lost handily again, taking about 13% of the vote to Baca’s 72%. He sued afterward saying top brass retaliated against him for taking on the boss.
Gomez said as sheriff he would he would focus on cleaning up corruption within the agency.
“Special interests and campaign contributors will no longer rule the Sheriff’s Department,” he said.
Baca spokesman Steve Whitmore said, “That’s fine if he wants to run. It’s a democracy.”
“The truth of the matter is,” Whitmore said, “the Sheriff’s Department is the best it’s ever been.”