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Defeated Sheriff’s Candidate Backs Baca

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Sgt. Patrick Gomez, who won 12% of the vote in this month’s sheriff’s election, announced Monday that he has decided to endorse Lee Baca in his effort to unseat the county’s incumbent sheriff, Sherman Block.

Gomez was one of three candidates who challenged Block in the June election. He finished in last place, but people close to Baca’s campaign said the sergeant’s endorsement would help firm up the coalition seeking to deprive the 73-year-old Block of a fifth term.

Baca, 56, was until recently the highest-ranking Latino in the Sheriff’s Department, but he retired after his surprising showing in the primary. Once just a few doors down from Block, Baca said he was leaving the department to run full-time for its top job. On Monday, however, he was unavailable for comment, and an answering machine at his office said he was not available all week.

His consultant, Jorge Flores, was also not immediately available for comment.

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Although Gomez’s endorsement could help unite the anti-Block forces, some analysts questioned whether the move would have much,if any, effect on the election’s outcome.

Rick Taylor, a campaign consultant who worked with another candidate in the sheriff’s race, said Gomez ran most strongly in those areas with heavily Latino populations that also supported Baca’s candidacy.

What’s more, even many better known candidates often have trouble convincing their supporters to join them in backing another candidate. Mayor Richard Riordan, for instance, amassed a substantial victory over state Sen. Tom Hayden in 1993, but still could not convince his supporters to back Ted Stein for city attorney. Taylor’s candidate, Bill Baker, has not decided whether to make an endorsement in the runoff campaign between Baca and Block.

“He’s still contemplating,” Taylor said.

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Block has amassed dozens of endorsements from local officials, some of whom represent the cities where law enforcement services are provided by the Sheriff’s Department. He also has the backing of other local law enforcement leaders, including Police Chief Bernard C. Parks.

So far, the union representing sheriff’s deputies has taken no position in the race.

In the June election, Block was forced into a runoff for the first time in his career. He finished with 36% of the vote, compared with Baca’s 32%.

With an annual salary of $234,016 a year, the Los Angeles County sheriff is the highest-paid elected official in the county. The sheriff oversees the nation’s largest sheriff’s department, which provides law enforcement to almost half of the county’s 88 cities, runs the jails and safeguards the courts.

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In recent years, the sheriff’s jail operations have faced a number of criticisms, from overcrowding to improper release of inmates.


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