McDonnell Loses Sheriff Race to Former Deputy

By: 
Steve Propes

After over three decades in law enforcement, Jim McDonnell is leaving his chosen field, a decision made for him by voters in the most recent Los Angeles County election for L.A. County Sheriff.

As of November 30, the 59-year-old McDonnell had garnered 47.2 percent of the votes, whereas his opponent, retired Sheriff Lieutenant Alex Villanueva, 55, amassed 52.9 percent.

This was an almost complete turnaround from the results of the June primary, when McDonnell scored 47.6 percent of the votes and Alex Villanueva trailed with 33.5 percent, certainly a comfortable margin, but less than the 50 percent plus one needed for an outright victory.

The difference in the results between June and November might be from McDonnell’s reluctance to campaign, confirming his self-description as a lawman, not a politician. In fact, though he outpaced Villanueva in fundraising, there was a lack of TV advertising and mailers, as well as lawn signs and the like. In fact, McDonnell’s only spate of signs were on Park Estates lawns.

Until this election, no active L.A. County Sheriff has lost to a challenger in the 20th or 21st centuries. In fact, the only loss was by Sherman Block in 1994 to upstart challenger Lee Baca, who had been defeated by Block in the previous election. Block died shortly before his loss to Baca, though some deputies planned to vote for their late leader, hoping he’d win and force the Board of Supervisors to appoint a replacement.

It was the legacy left by Baca that caused major disruption in the department. When Baca resigned, his temporary replacement John Scott did not vie for the job and McDonnell entered the race, handily defeating Paul Tanaka, undersheriff to Baca. Both Baca and Tanaka were later convicted of obstruction of justice or lying in regard to abuses in the county jail.

It was in this void that McDonnell came over from the Long Beach Police Department, for whom he was chief from 2010 to 2014 when he resigned to run for sheriff. From 1981 to 2010, he rose through the LAPD ranks and was in the running for chief, prior to the appointment of Charlie Beck.

Raised in Boston, McDonnell referenced the “old stereotype, the Boston-Irish cop.” In fact, “my parents came from Ireland the year before I was born.” Graduating from St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, McDonnell received a graduate degree from USC and joined the LAPD in 1981.

At first a Democrat, he noted to a radio interviewer, he grew up in a largely Democratic area. When he joined law enforcement, he turned Republican as that was the party favored by most in that profession, finally dropping any party affiliation as he was in law enforcement administration, which ideally is non-partisan.

Prior to his retirement in February 2018, Villanueva was watch commander at the Pico Rivera station. He was raised in Puerto Rico and now is a resident of Hacienda Heights. Even though running in a non-political race, some say that professed Democrat Villanueva was swept into office by the so-called blue wave, which displaced many Southern California Republican office-holders. Pro-Villanueva mailers and social media postings reinforced the notion that he would be the first Democratic sheriff in the county in 138 years.

McDonnell countered sanctuary state policy and allowed ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to detain undocumented immigrant prisoners about to be released.

During the campaign, Villanueva said he would remove ICE agents from the jail system, which earned him an endorsement from an immigrants’ rights group. Villanueva’s plan would be to transfer inmates convicted of serious crimes directly to ICE in a secure courtyard near the jail.

Saying he hopes the department will not backtrack on reforms won from the deputy union, McDonnell has said he has made progress in reforming the jail system, though some problems have been uncovered, such as that of cliques within at least one sheriff station in Compton. Other so-called gangs have been alleged. McDonnell also questioned Villanueva’s administrative experience and thus his ability to take over a department of close to 10,000 deputies.

On Monday, Nov. 26, McDonnell conceded the election held 20 days earlier. Since that concession, the margin has grown wider. Before Villanueva’s first day as sheriff on Dec. 3, he promised to reassign or demote some higher ranked administrators who served under McDonnell.

In a statement, McDonnell said, “The honor of serving as the L.A. County Sheriff is one like no other in law enforcement. The sheriff will be immediately faced with a range of very complex issues that go to the heart of maintaining public safety and public trust.”

steve@beachcomber.news

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Comments

We the citizens of LB need to do what the county voters just did. Vote out the mayor, the city attorney and the corrupt LBPD chief and his yes-men staff. Let's clean house like the new sheriff just did. Today we taxpayers just lost $2.6 million on a retaliation lawsuit against the police department. What needs to happen or what do we have to do in order to get rid of these dirty cops that are giving away our hard-earned money? These corrupt cops don't care because we pay them over $100K a year while they give away our money. FIRE THE PD CHIEF or we'll vote you out.

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