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Block Calls Baca’s Behavior ‘Bizarre’ in Tough Message

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Signaling a tough new tone to his campaign for reelection, Sheriff Sherman Block on Thursday characterized the behavior of challenger Lee Baca as “bizarre” and said he would have kicked the former sheriff’s division chief out of his post if he had known then what he knows now about him.

Baca campaign spokesman Jorge Flores scoffed at Block’s assertions.

“He’s the person responsible for a good number of Lee’s promotions. So why was he promoting Lee?” Flores asked.

Baca resigned from the Sheriff’s Department--to devote more time to his bid to unseat Block--four days after the June primary, in which he forced his boss into a November runoff election.

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Block said that after Baca’s resignation, he learned disturbing things about the former division chief’s work. The sheriff declined to offer specifics, however, during a meeting with reporters outside the department’s Monterey Park headquarters.

“When a person leaves, suddenly all these people come forward with information about an individual. Some of these things are quite serious and were not discussed before this time,” Block said.

“Had I been aware of some of these things, I can assure you he would have been removed” and demoted to commander.

“I don’t have authority to fire people. That’s Civil Service,” Block said.

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Baca, who received 32% of the primary vote to Block’s 36% in the four-candidate race for the county’s top law enforcement job, could not be reached Thursday for comment.

Block said he intends to reveal Baca’s “lack of credibility” in a series of television and radio debates he hopes to see staged before the election.

“Certainly there will be negative comments, and whatever will be said will be the truth,” said the 73-year-old Block.

“I intend to discuss some events and issues that will put the spotlight very clearly on matters such as integrity and ethics and the ability to manage,” he added.

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If the debates do not materialize, “then I’ll just have to begin talking about things in a straight news format.”

Baca spokesman Flores said the challenger will evaluate debate and speaking invitations “from legitimate community and political organizations on a case-by-case basis.” Flores accused Block of repeatedly dodging debates and forums held during the primary campaign.

Block campaign advisor Joe Scott said the sheriff hopes to raise $1 million for the fall campaign. The sheriff’s job, which is the highest-paid elected post in the county, has an annual salary of $234,016.

Block told reporters that other department chiefs and the assistant sheriff voiced “strong opposition” when he appointed Baca as a division chief.

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“But I felt he had earned that opportunity over the years” and deserved a shot at the job, Block said.

He said Baca, 56, “had a tendency to run off into areas nobody could seem to understand” after being appointed to the chief’s post. He suggested that Baca’s low profile since his resignation has been engineered by election advisors.

“I think his campaign team is afraid he will talk. Each time he talks he paints himself into a corner,” the sheriff said.

Quizzed about his new aggressiveness, Block denied that Baca’s strong primary showing--coupled with the challenger’s endorsement by primary election candidate Sgt. Patrick Gomez--has him running scared.

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“I certainly don’t view myself as the underdog,” Block said. But this is “the first campaign I’ve faced a runoff.”

Because Thursday’s news conference was considered a campaign event, Block did not invite reporters into his headquarters. Standing in a shady spot under the entryway, he apologized for making the journalists stand in Thursday’s blazing sun.

But that might be a symbol of the next few months, he said.

“I believe that the campaign that lies ahead of us is going to be a hot one,” Block said.

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