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SHERIFF RIDING TO RUNOFF.

Byline: Lee Condon Daily News Staff Writer

Facing his toughest re-election challenge ever, Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block was falling short of a majority Tuesday and appeared destined for a runoff against Lee Baca, a department chief under his command.

At 73 and in poor health, the results were a setback for Block, who was elected four times without a runoff.

Other county incumbents, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Assessor Kenneth Hahn, easily won re-election. Supervisor Gloria Molina ran unopposed.

The voting for sheriff capped a rare, bruising fight for political survival by the county's chief elected lawman. In four previous elections, Block - only the fourth man to hold the sheriff's job since 1921 - easily outpaced competitors and became known as one of the county's most successful vote-getters.

But this spring, he faced challenges from two men who have been among the highest-ranking members of his department, Baca and retired Chief Bill Baker, as well as sheriff's patrol Sgt. Patrick Gomez.

Block said he was encouraged by the support he was receiving, even if it would mean a runoff election.

``I think it's going pretty well,'' Block said.

Baca, a 55-year-old Pasadena resident, said he was running because Block is too ill to run the department.

Block, 73, of West Hills has survived bouts with prostate cancer and non-Hodgkins lymphoma and now undergoes dialysis treatments three times a week for kidney failure.

Block contends that it's up to him to decide when to retire and insists he is in good physical condition and capable of running the department.

Baker, 60, of Rancho Palos Verdes said he was challenging Block because of what he described as major mismanagement of the Sheriff's Department.

A former sheriff's chief of detectives, Baker said his 1995 retirement was due to his frustration over the department's lack of vision.

Baker criticized Block for a series of problems with the county jails, including a yearlong delay in the opening of the Twin Towers Jail in downtown Los Angeles, the mistaken release of several prisoners, and a Department of Justice report that labeled conditions for mentally ill inmates unconstitutional.

Baker was also critical of Block because of financial audits that showed wasteful spending practices, excessive overtime and questionable contracting practices.

Gomez, 40, said he entered the race because of low morale among the deputies. He raised little money, but surprised many when he came out on top in a straw vote among members of the union that represents deputies.

Block has never been forced into a runoff in past elections since being appointed to the office by the Board of Supervisors in January 1982.

Yaroslavsky leading

It has been almost 20 years since an incumbent Los Angeles County supervisor has been bounced from office, and the streak continues.

Yaroslavsky, who represents the Third District, including most of west Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, had the advantages of name recognition, a large war chest and broad political support.

Yaroslavsky was opposed by three poorly funded challengers who failed to spark much interest among voters: Shane McLoud, a teacher who lives in Santa Monica; C.J. John McDonald, a rancher and inventor from Los Angeles; and Casey Peters of Los Angeles.

Yaroslavsky needed to receive more than 50 percent of the votes cast in the race to win a new term outright.

Hahn, seeking a new term as assessor, was challenged by two deputy assessors, Dan Kumaus of Palmdale and John E. Hasley of Duarte, and Richard Kenneth Maguire, a mortgage-brokerage owner from Diamond Bar.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: Actor Norm Crosby, left, shares a guffaw Tuesday with L.A. County Sheriff Sherman Block at a campaign rally downtown.

Gene Blevins/Special to the Daily News
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 3, 1998
Words:618
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