Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell is headed toward a runoff against retired sheriff’s Lt. Alex Villanueva in his bid to secure a second term as top cop of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.
While McDonnell finished Tuesday’s primary with the most votes, he fell short of securing the more than 50% needed to win outright, according to initial election results. He will face off in November with Villanueva, a department veteran who received 33% of the vote despite being heavily outspent.
“I don’t think they saw that coming,” Villanueva said Wednesday.
The results mark a setback for McDonnell, who faced two challengers in a race where incumbent sheriffs can typically count on being reelected to the job, which has no term limits. A campaign spokesman said Wednesday that the results look “very promising” for November.
McDonnell was elected four years ago on a platform to reform a corrupt organization reeling from a federal jail abuse probe that would ultimately lead to the conviction of numerous officials, including his predecessor, Lee Baca.
Several watchdogs, including those with records of criticizing department policies, have said McDonnell has been a stabilizing presence and has improved jail conditions.
But his challengers argued that crime is up, that deputy morale is dangerously low amid a staffing shortage, and that McDonnell, an outsider who previously headed the Long Beach Police Department, has mismanaged the sheriff’s department.
Villanueva touted his 17 years as a street cop in his bid to unseat McDonnell. He said Wednesday the results were a validation that “we have the right message.”
“Our message was simple from the beginning, all about reforming the Sheriff’s Department,” Villanueva said. “My motto was reform, rebuild and restore, and that’s what we’re sticking to, and that’s what’s going to propel us to victory in November.”
Villanueva, who received the support of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, has said he would reorganize the department, including assigning civilians to more jobs, and would add thousands more officers for street duty.
Retired Sheriff’s Cmdr. Bob Lindsey trailed Tuesday, getting only 19% of the vote despite having significant financial backing.
Lindsey raised about $330,000 and an independent group supporting him collected $410,000, putting him well past McDonnell’s intake of $586,000. Lindsey, who most recently oversaw security for the Los Angeles County Superior Court, had said he would win outright Tuesday.
Villanueva, meanwhile, raised just $27,000.
In the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors races, two incumbents were headed toward reelection to the five-person board.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, whose 3rd District includes many coastal areas, far outpaced her two little-known opponents. Supervisor Hilda Solis, meanwhile, ran unopposed to represent the 1st District, which covers the county’s eastern stretches. Both supervisors, along with McDonnell, were first elected in 2014.
“In the last four years as county supervisor, I am proud of what we have accomplished to lift people up, improve their lives, and ensure their success,” Solis said in a statement. “As we continue to create a county that prioritizes jobs over incarceration, health over inequity, and a home for every resident, I believe our collective future is bright."
The results in the Board of Supervisors races were unsurprising.
It’s been almost 40 years since an incumbent on the Board of Supervisors lost a seat — in 1980, two Republican politicians unseated Democratic members of the board.