Contradicting a previous account of his campaign strategy, Los Angeles County sheriff candidate Lee Baca on Tuesday denied ever offering incumbent Sherman Block inducements to step aside before the June election.
Meeting with a dozen reporters at his campaign headquarters, Baca said he never offered Block a deal to quit the race, although, as reported in Tuesday's Times, he earlier had described in some detail his efforts to strike such a bargain. "No offers or deals were proffered through emissaries or directly by myself," said Baca, one of three people challenging Block in the spring primary.
According to the state election code, it is a criminal offense for a candidate to "advance, pay or solicit" money or other valuables to induce a person to drop out of a race. However, it remains unclear if Baca's alleged actions violated the law.
Block, who made the charges Monday, said he did not intend to pursue the matter with the state attorney general's office, which would have to handle the case because Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti's endorsement of Block creates a potential conflict of interest.
"I just wanted to give this a public airing," Block said. "People are saying, 'It's about time.' "
Block said Baca offered to allow him to "retain my existing personal office, have a county car, a county driver and other perks, including becoming sheriff emeritus," if he quit the race.
And in an "unprecedented extra bonus of the offer, I would be permitted by Baca to handle external affairs for the Sheriff's Department, such as lobbying the Board of Supervisors and other agencies for public funds while he ran the sheriff's office on a day-to-day basis," Block said.
Block said Baca offered to drop out of the race if the incumbent would step down after being reelected and help his rival get appointed to the post.
On Monday, Baca acknowledged that he has been trying to make a deal with the sheriff--including providing him with a county car and driver--to accomplish what he called a "smooth transition."
"I'm not saying, 'Oh no, I never wanted a deal,' " Baca said Monday. "There is no question I have been trying to encourage the sheriff to retire for the sake of the department and to allow a smooth transition of power to occur. I want him to support me."
Baca told The Times that he remained hopeful that the two could still work out an arrangement in which Block would step aside and support him. On Tuesday morning, he left a voice mail message complimenting the story.
"My campaign people are fretting and I'm holding their hand," Baca said on the recording by The Times' voice mail system. "I'm telling them don't worry about it. It's just one of those things. We can't have it all our way."
He added: "I think it's a good article and the nature under which the sheriff portrays all this is more sinister than it actually is."
Tuesday afternoon, however, Baca denied ever offering Block--who is facing strong opposition in his bid for a fifth term--a deal to step aside. He accused the sheriff of leveling untrue charges against him in a "desperate attempt to gain political advantage."
"It saddens me that Sheriff Block has attempted to twist this into something it's not," Baca said at his afternoon news conference.
For the first time, Baca suggested that it was, in fact, Block's supporters who came to him in an effort to craft an agreement between the two men in case Block is defeated in his reelection bid.
"I have been approached by three very close friends of the sheriff," Baca said. "They wanted to see if some kind of arrangement could be made to see that he and I would not have a widening crisis."
Block's campaign manager, Harvey Englander, said, "There is absolutely no reason for us to make a deal."