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Block Says He’s Feeling Fit; Rivals Attack His Record

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With five weeks left until the June primary, Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block on Wednesday night sparred with his three challengers at a forum in Commerce, where he sought to shore up support for his reelection bid and downplay questions about his health.

“If you are concerned about my health, my health is fine,” Block told the 60 people who attended the forum sponsored by the Latino Peace Officers Assn.

Over the course of the campaign, Block’s opponents have questioned whether the 73-year-old sheriff--who has come through two bouts with cancer and now suffers from kidney failure--is physically able to keep up with the job.

“The health thing is just a straw man because [the candidates] have nothing else to talk about,” said Block, who is seeking a fifth term.

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Meanwhile, his challengers--Sheriff’s Chief Lee Baca, retired Chief Bill Baker and Sgt. Patrick Gomez--argued that the department simply needs new leadership.

“Unless you have been living out of state or in a closet, you know this department needs a change,” said Baker, contending that problems in the county’s vast jail system have been an embarrassment for too long. “I’m the only one who represents a change from the status quo.”

Baca argued that he was the most qualified to do the job.

“The problems are solvable through planning,” said Baca, noting his 32 years of experience. “I believe I’m in the best position to do this.”

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Gomez said that if he is elected, he will work to improve deputies’ morale. “I feel we’ve had a lack of support from the administration,” he said.

Wednesday’s forum marks the second time in two months that all four candidates in this year’s sheriff’s race have met to debate the issues. If no one wins a majority of the vote on June 2, there will be a runoff election in November between the top two vote-getters.

Block, arguing that the voters should be the ones to chose the sheriff, said he does not agree with the notion that the sheriff’s position should be “handed down” to a department insider.

On Monday, Block accused Baca of trying to make a deal to become the next sheriff. The sheriff claims that Baca offered to allow him to retain his personal office and have a county car, a county driver and other perks, including the title of sheriff emeritus, if he quit the race and supported Baca’s election bid.

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Before Wednesday’s forum, high-ranking members of the sheriff’s staff said they would be willing to sign sworn affidavits supporting Block’s allegations.

Baca--who has given conflicting stories on whether he actually made the offer to Block--did not mention the controversy Wednesday evening. However, he took issue with critics who have questioned his integrity.

“You can’t hold onto your integrity when you attack someone else’s,” said Baca, adding that he refuses to run a campaign based on “back-ally squabbling.”


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