By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
While the debates have been worth a look, the most intriguing indicators in the race so far are statistical: Block's been harvesting big campaign money in traditional Westside fund-raising venues. He's nailed big donations from realtors, key business leaders and celebrities. Baca, however, has been leading Block in overall fund-raising in the last quarter, by $140,000 to $126,000. The total for the year to date is Baca's $465,000 to Block's $333,000. Baca's handlers stress that his total includes many more smaller contributions, suggesting broader support. Whatever the case, Baca's fund-raising is impressive for a non-incumbent, but the challenger still hasn't negated more than $200,000 that Block's got left over in his war chest from past campaigns.
Block also has an incumbent's roster of endorsements: 47 local police chiefs, both the departmental unions, all the county supervisors, and even Miguel Contreras, head of the County Federation of Labor and one of the most influential Latinos in Southern California. Baca's strongest backing is from other local Latino leaders, though he also has support in the east-county Asian community.
And how does the outcome look? Judging from the results of June's primary, Block is strongest in the San Fernando Valley and the west and south county areas, with Baca's fortress of support in the San Gabriel Valley, where the department has a larger public presence. In most of this area's cities, as well as in its unincorporated areas, Baca managed to surge ahead of Block in June. Yet neither candidate got a clear majority anywhere.
Historically, Block has fought off critics by responding aggressively to problems - such as the early release of inmates - once they become scandals. But with each passing year, he seems even less proactive.
As for Baca, his primary burden remains his prime qualification - his generally noteworthy career in the Sheriff's Department Office. Even Block admitted last week - under some pressure - that Baca's record in law enforcement was a least "fair." It was Block, after all, who kept promoting Baca until he rose to chief of the department's Division 2, after field experience in most of the department's operations. Yet this record is also Baca's major liability. For Baca had more than enough authority to face responsibility for things that went wrong. Such as the recently reported fast turnover and personnel problems in the Century Station - one of the department's newest and largest Sheriff's stations, which was in Baca's division.
Of course, it's downright bizarre to see Block blame his former subordinate for so many mishaps. I guess you'll never hear Block say, "The buck stops here." Where was Block when Baca was being so incompetent within the department? Did he not notice as long as Baca remained loyal? At the same time, if Block is ultimately accountable - and he is - Baca also must confess culpability in failing to confront the department's need for major changes. Yes, each contender can blame the other for departmental problems. But not without the accusation falling back on the accuser.
This paradox illustrates how dangerously inbred the department's hierarchy has become. It's fair to question whether either candidate can sufficiently distinguish himself from the other, and whether the 56-year-old Baca represents a choice for real change.
Block keeps painting Baca as a flake who just hasn't got it together to be an effective sheriff. But to many, Block looks increasingly overextended as he campaigns all-out at age 74 while peering over his shoulder at possible kidney-transplant surgery. He's promised us another full term. But how will he look in two years? Will anyone be in charge of the world's largest sheriff's department by then? The voters may well decide that on-the-job flakiness is preferable to on-the-stretcher frailty.
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