Paul Tanaka, candidate for L.A. County sheriff, greets supporters during an election night party on Tuesday at Cherrystones in Gardena. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)
Paul Tanaka, candidate for L.A. County sheriff, greets supporters during an election night party on Tuesday at Cherrystones in Gardena. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)


GARDENA — Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka will face Long Beach chief Jim McDonnell in a November runoff after finishing second in a crowded race for L.A. County Sheriff.

McDonnell fell short of the 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff, receiving 264,104 or 49.1 percent; Tanaka received 79,189 or 16.4 percent of the vote.

“If we can make it into that top two, that’s probably the best thing that basically the voters can have,” said Tanaka. “Then they narrow it down to two choices and have an opportunity to take a very scrutinizing look at the track records of the two candidates.”

Assistant Sheriffs Todd Rogers and James Hellmold, LAPD Senior Detective Supervisor Lou Vince, retired sheriff’s Cmdr. Bob Olmsted and retired sheriff’s Lt. Patrick Gomez split the balance of the votes.

McDonnell was the only outsider among the seven candidates who battled to take on the tough task of overhauling the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which has been under fire over the management of the jail system – leading to federal indictments and the retirement of former Sheriff Lee Baca.

At an election party, McDonnell compared stepping into the role of sheriff to a corporate turnaround in which new management is recruited from outside the company.

“They don’t reach down into the organization to replace the CEO,” McDonnell told NBC4.

At Cherrystones Restaurant in Gardena, supporters chanted “Go, Paul, go!” as the candidate watched early returns. Media trucks camped outside and reporters filed in as the evening progressed to speak to Tanaka, who is also the mayor of Gardena.

He said he was the right candidate to bring the changes necessary to reform the department. Tanaka said he felt that there was a media bias against him during the campaign. The former undersheriff served in the Sheriff’s Department since 1982, rising to second-in-command to Baca.

“I’m certainly not bitter about it, but if you ask me did I get a fair shake (from the media), I’d say no,” said Tanaka.

Tanaka was blamed by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence in a 2012 report for promoting an environment in which aggressive deputies went undisciplined for violence against inmates.

Tanaka, who retired from his post in 2013, has called the commission’s findings an attack on his character and said its sources lied to prevent him from becoming sheriff.

“We were trying to deliver a message that as far as qualifications go there’s nobody even close, but the other candidates, none of them extolled their own virtues. All they did was rail on why I shouldn’t be sheriff,” Tanaka said. “So obviously that had an impact on the voters, because if it was just qualifications, this race would have been over a long time ago.”

Tanaka said that regardless of the outcome he would take a rest before returning to the campaign trail.

“I feel good. We ran a hard campaign, we ran a good, clean campaign. We were focused on delivering our message. My qualifications are 33 years in the business, a proven track record of reducing crime wherever I’ve worked, and fiscally responsible,” he said.

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