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Beset by Scandal, O.C. Sheriff May Be in Runoff

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Times Staff Writers

Buffeted by scandal, Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona was flirting late Tuesday with a November runoff with one of his own lieutenants -- a potential blow to his effort to win a third term outright and put the strife in his department behind him.

Carona had a wide lead over Lt. William Hunt and Ralph Martin, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s commander, but he needed to hang on to more than half the vote to close out the race. He lost the endorsement of the county deputies union and struggled to win the endorsement of the county Republican Party, but was backed by most local and state politicians.

Voters were even more conflicted in choosing a new supervisor for south Orange County, the most heated and expensive of three supervisor races. Though former Assemblywoman Pat Bates held a slight lead in early voting, a fall runoff appeared certain between Bates and Laguna Niguel Mayor Cathryn DeYoung, who set a county record by spending $2.5 million on her race -- $2.15 million of it her own money.

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That contest, whose two leaders live eight houses apart in Laguna Niguel, was bitter and centered at times on immigration issues -- over which county supervisors have no authority.

“It’s great we’re right in there neck-and-neck,” DeYoung said late Tuesday from her campaign party in Laguna Niguel, attended by well-wishers who danced to a live band. Winning outright would have “been nice, but it would have been a Herculean task,” she said.

Voters were more decisive on their choices for the other two supervisor seats. Current Treasurer Tax-Collector John M.W. Moorlach was easily beating Stanton Councilman David Shawver, despite six-figure spending for Shawver by the deputies union.

Moorlach wasted no time renewing his attack on county labor contracts that sweetened pension and health benefits for retirees, saying the county can’t afford them.

“I think the union members have to do a little evaluation on how bright their leadership is,” Moorlach said. “As far as I can tell, the unions want to make Orange County into France. And we’ve got to turn that around. The sense of entitlement, you know?”

Incumbent Supervisor Chris Norby appeared headed for a second term, seemingly having little problem holding off a challenge from La Habra Councilwoman Rosie Espinosa.

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“I believe I’ve done a lot to serve the residents, setting good public policy as a whole,” said Norby, who spent the evening with supporters at a Fullerton restaurant. “Ours has been an activist office, not just reactive.”

In other races, Chriss W. Street -- a protege of Moorlach -- held a significant advantage to take over Moorlach’s treasurer’s job despite being investigated by the district attorney’s office. The county prosecutor is looking into complaints about Street’s six-year stewardship of a bankrupt trailer company.

Street, who spent the evening at Moorlach’s election headquarters, said his chances of winning were boosted almost immediately by support from the outgoing treasurer. “It’s fantastic to me that I can take his place and support him when he’s on the Board of Supervisors.”

Incumbent Assessor Webster Guillory was easily outpolling two rivals, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Sheila Hanson was beating two rivals for a judgeship.

Local voters were handily approving a countywide ballot measure that would bar the Board of Supervisors from using eminent domain to take away private property for other private development.

For five incumbents, it was a night without drama. Auditor-Controller David Sundstrom, Clerk Tom Daly, Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas, Public Administrator John Williams and Supt. of Schools William Habermehl were all unopposed.

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Clearly, the race of the night involved Carona, who backed away from a pledge that he would serve only two terms. He campaigned on a pledge to continue his work on lowering the county’s crime rate and protecting against terrorist attacks.

Carona’s challengers were Hunt, in charge of the sheriff’s San Clemente operations; Martin, the Los Angeles County sheriff’s commander; and Robert Alcaraz, a retired Los Angeles County deputy. Alcaraz dropped out of the race last month and endorsed Hunt, but his name remained on the ballot.

All three men accused Carona of management and ethical lapses that seriously undercut departmental integrity and morale, including issuing badges and concealed-weapons permits to campaign contributors without proper training or background checks.

They argued that departmental deterioration could increase employee turnover and, eventually, crime rates.

But Carona overwhelmed his opponents with a campaign account exceeding $1 million, and pulled in endorsements from the governor’s office on down the line. It wasn’t enough, however, to shake off Hunt, who earned the endorsement of the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs over his boss.

The deputies union got involved in two other races, pouring in money against Moorlach and his heir apparent, Street. The union opposes both men because they criticized the sweetened retirement benefits, approved by the Board of Supervisors, and said they would push for reform. Street was challenged by a county assessor’s auditor, Patrick Desmond.

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Term limits shaped two of the supervisor races. The Moorlach-Shawver race is to fill Jim Silva’s seat; the Bates-DeYoung race is to fill Tom Wilson’s.

DeYoung said early in the race that she was willing to spend what she needed to introduce herself to voters in the district, which stretches from Aliso Viejo to San Clemente. She was true to her word, lending her campaign $2.15 million and burying mailboxes with campaign brochures on a near-daily basis.

Bates spent far less money but benefited from her familiarity with voters through her eight years in the Assembly. She also scooped up most of the endorsements from area lawmakers.

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Times staff writers Jennifer Delson and Kelly-Anne Suarez contributed to this report.

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