Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell emerged from Tuesday's election as the overwhelming favorite to be the next sheriff, finishing well out in front in a seven-candidate field.
With most of the ballots counted, McDonnell held 49 percent - narrowly missing the majority needed to win outright. If the results hold up, he will go into a November runoff with former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who had 15 percent.
McDonnell presented himself as an outsider who had the experience to clean up the scandals that have plagued the department under Sheriff Lee Baca, who was forced to resign in January. That message appeared to resonate with voters.
"They want a fresh start," McDonnell told his supporters at his election night party at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in downtown L.A. "They want the Sheriff's Department to reach its full potential, to put the shine back on the badge again."
Steve Barkan, McDonnell's strategist, said the results "significantly exceeded" his expectations. Based on internal polls, he believed McDonnell would finish in the mid- to high-30s. The polling also suggested that Tanaka would finish a stronger second.
Barkan said that McDonnell benefited from having served on the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence, which investigated inmate abuse under Baca's watch. McDonnell was also the only major candidate on the ballot who was not affiliated with the Sheriff's Department, which helped signal that he would represent a clean slate.
In an interview, McDonnell said he would take nothing for granted in a runoff with Tanaka. He also said the campaign would show a contrast between "two very different styles" of leadership.
Tanaka has come under fire in the media for a series of scandals, including the jail abuse scandal. According to the CCJV report, Tanaka undermined accountability in the jails, encouraged deputies to push the legal limits of law enforcement, and berated supervisors who tried to crack down on misconduct. Baca forced Tanaka to resign several months after the report was issued.
Tanaka barred the media from attending his election night celebration. The Weekly was thrown out of the event, at Cherrystones restaurant in Gardena, within two minutes of arriving.
"It's a private party. What else do we need to explain?" said one Tanaka supporter.
"You're trespassing," said another, who identified himself only as a Marine combat veteran.
Ed Chen, Tanaka's campaign manager, said the party was a "very intimate" event, and that Tanaka's supporters were being "protective" of him. Later on, some members of the press were escorted into the restaurant for brief interviews or photos, and then escorted out.
Asked about strategy for the runoff, Chen said it would be "an entirely different election."
"We believe in our candidate and his background and experience," Chen said.
Bob Olmsted, the retired commander who blew the whistle on jail violence, finished third with 9.9 percent of the vote. Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold trailed with 7.9 percent - despite the support of Leonardo DiCaprio.
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McDonnell had his own celebrity endorser, so maybe this helped pad his lead:
Must be a Boston thing...