The nation's largest sheriff's department will be headed by a little-known retired police chief from Long Beach, Ca., with the announcement by incumbent Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva conceding defeat in his bid for a second term, the Los Angeles Times reports. With a commanding 20-percentage-point lead in the vote count and the number of ballots yet to be tallied shrinking by the day, Robert Luna was declared the winner over Villanueva, who leaves office after a turbulent term in which he turned away from his progressive supporters to adopt a conservative, combative image, clashing endlessly with elected officials and others who oversee him and the department.
Luna will be the fourth sheriff since Lee Baca resigned eight years ago amid a federal corruption probe that ultimately sent him to prison. Dislike for Villanueva and his antagonistic style of rule played out elsewhere on the ballot. Measure A, which rewrites the county charter to give the Board of Supervisors the power to fire a sitting sheriff, looks likely to pass overwhelmingly, with about 70 percent of voters approving it so far. Supervisors put the measure to voters after years spent battling with Villanueva. A Los Angeles Times editorial said Villanueva "oscillated between goofy caricature and dangerous loose cannon" in a tenure that served as "a virtual how-not-to handbook for leadership." The Sheriff's Department historically has operated in the shadow of the Los Angeles Police Department but is equal both in size and the role it plays in public safety. Jail conditions, police shootings and other uses of force, and the department's relations with other public officials and agencies all pose challenges to Luna when he takes office next month. Another, perhaps even larger challenge: Luna as an outsider must win over a rank and file that grew to appreciate Villanueva's style.