The L.A. County Assessor's office has been in limbo for two years, ever since corruption charges forced Assessor John Noguez to take an extended leave of absence. On Tuesday, the office got a little closer to having stable leadership.
Jeff Prang and John Morris finished at the top of a 12-candidate field, and will face each other in a November runoff. Prang led with 18 percent of the vote, to Morris' 16.3 percent.
Prang is an insider, having been appointed by Noguez to help defend him during his final weeks in the office. Prang stayed on after helping to negotiate Noguez's departure. A veteran of local Democratic politics, he locked up dozens of endorsements from office-holders.
Morris is a head deputy in the L.A. County District Attorney's office. He is an outsider. He has never before run for office, and has never worked for the assessor. A Republican, his key endorsements were from ex-D.A. Steve Cooley, his former boss, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and the L.A. Times and L.A. Newspaper Group.
Noguez has been charged with dozens of counts of bribery. He is alleged to have taken money from tax agent Ramin Salari, while improperly lowering property values for Salari's clients.
Morris is expected to link Prang to Noguez as much as possible, and to argue that Prang was hired to help Noguez cover up his crimes.
Prang, meanwhile, has argued that he has been helping to reform the Assessor's Office since Noguez left. He can also argue that he is more experienced and knowledgeable about the workings of the office than Morris is.
Both candidates, however, will have to get an appraiser's certificate within a year of being elected.
John Wong, a former Assessment Appeals Board member, finished third. Wong made the runoff four years ago against Noguez, but fell five points behind this time around. Trailing him were John “Lower Taxes” Loew, a perennial candidate who legally changed his middle name to run for office; supervising appraiser Frank Diaz Jr.; and appraiser Omar Haroon.