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Long Beach police chief says he won’t run against Baca

Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell announced Tuesday evening that he will not be challenging Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca in next year’s election.

McDonnell, a well-respected former Los Angeles police official, had been considering running for several months. If he had, he would have been the most formidable opponent to challenge Baca since Baca became sheriff about 15 years ago.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, McDonnell said he made his decision over the weekend, after considering how much time it would take to compete for campaign donations against an incumbent. That task, he said, would have taken him away from his family and his duties in Long Beach.

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“It would have been a year and a half ahead of me of fundraising and politicking,” said McDonnell, who served on the blue ribbon panel that blasted Baca for allowing a culture of abuse to form inside the nation’s largest jail system.

Now, the only definite challengers Baca faces are a little known L.A. police detective, Lou Vince, and a retired sheriff’s lieutenant, Patrick Gomez, who has run two failed campaigns before.

Paul Tanaka, the controversial undersheriff who Baca recently pressured to step down, is considering a run.

Baca’s spokesman, Steve Whitmore, said “the sheriff respects and likes Chief McDonnell … and he respects his decisions.”

Asked if Baca was relieved, Whitmore said: “No, it has nothing to do with relief.”

For many of Baca’s critics, McDonnell had represented the best hope to keep the sheriff from winning his fifth term in office.

Baca has faced a string of scandals in recent years. Federal authorities are investigating his department, including allegations that deputies harassed minorities in the Antelope Valley and abused jail inmates. In addition to the federal probes, Baca had been under fire for questionable hires, giving special treatment to friends and supporters, and the existence of aggressive, unsanctioned deputy cliques within the agency’s ranks.

Despite these problems, political experts have said knocking the four-term sheriff from his post will be a challenge. Baca is well-known within the county and has drawn support from a diverse set of ethnic groups and community leaders. He has gained a reputation for progressive law enforcement views, such as helping the homeless and providing education for jail inmates. He also has already lined up a string of heavyweight endorsements.

Asked if he hoped another formidable challenger would step up, McDonnell said: “It’s good to have choices and the voters will hopefully inform themselves and make their own decision.”

McDonnell declined to say whether he would vote for Baca: “I wouldn’t even talk about that.”

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com


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