UPDATE: Robert Luna set to become new county sheriff

Former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna holds a solid lead on Thursday in his bid to unseat Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, though the incumbent remains confident he can return to the contest then that the counting of the votes will continue in the coming days.

Luna took an early lead when the first polling results were released for Tuesday’s election, but as updates rolled in as the evening wore on, Villanueva started making gains slow.

Still, when semi-official results were released early Wednesday morning, Luna had 57% of the vote to Villanueva’s 43%.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Clerk-Recorder’s office estimated that there were about 1 million ballots left to count. The bureau estimated that there were 985,000 absentee ballots, 21,000 conditional registration ballots and 300 provisional or disputed ballots.

The next updated vote tally is not expected to be released until Friday, and then every following Tuesday and Friday until all ballots are counted – – a process that could take until the end of the month.

“So far, the returns look good and our campaign has a significant lead,” Luna said in a statement Wednesday. “And I believe that as more votes are counted in the days to come, I will continue to maintain a lead in this race. LA County voted for change, and if elected sheriff, I will bring new leadership, accountability, and effective strategies to reduce crime.

Luna seeks to pull off a rare feat by overthrowing a stationed sheriff.

Villanueva’s victory four years ago over incumbent Jim McDonnell marked the first time in about a century that a sheriff had lost a re-election bid in the county. But now Villanueva finds herself in danger of suffering the same fate at the hands of Luna.

The sheriff, however, said he was confident he would make up the shortfall from the early ballot as the vote count continued over the coming week.

“Let’s see what the vote says,” he told KCAL9 on his election night in Monterey Park. “…I think people just want to see the things that matter to them – homelessness and violent crime.”

Luna, speaking to his supporters in Long Beach on Tuesday evening, noted that the vote count would take a long time, but said he felt good about the direction of the numbers.

“As I met so many people in this great county, there was one thing that was very obvious to me…people were talking about the need for change,” Luna said.

He said that as sheriff he will be “ultimately accountable” and work to ensure “integrity” in the department.

The candidates ran a heated campaign, with Luna attacking the incumbent for his torrid relationship with the County Board of Supervisors and accusing him of ignoring the issue of deputy gangs within the department. Villanueva deflected that criticism, saying his battles with the board show he’s a fierce defender of the department and its deputies, and insisting he’s gone to great lengths to attack and ban the so-called deputy cliques within the agency.

“Mr. Luna, the Civilian Supervisory Board, the Supervisory Board, they can’t get used to the idea that (on) my very first day in office, I removed the station captain from East LA of his command because I had doubts about his ability to lead,” Villanueva said last week, responding to Luna’s latest allegation of inaction on the deputy gang issue.

The sheriff said four deputies were also fired from the East LA station for their actions during a high-profile fight at a rally of deputies at Kennedy Hall. He also said he implemented the department’s first-ever policy banning “outlaw groups,” codified it in training materials, and sponsored legislation to expand the policy across the board. of State.

“There is nothing more that we can do legally,” Villanueva said. “We can’t line people up, strip them naked and send tattoos back, as some people have literally suggested. So when my opponent falsely asserts that nothing has been done, he is merely repeating the politically motivated narrative of the oversight commission that works for the council.

Luna insisted last week that deputy gangs remain a problem, citing “men and women in the Sheriff’s Department who have come forward, good men and women who want this eradicated.”

“So how do employees feel about coming forward and reporting misconduct when they know you have a sheriff who is going to look the other way?” He asked. “It’s been proven over and over again.”

“I still have family that lives here in East Los Angeles and just a few weeks ago being in the East Los Angeles parade, how many people were stopping me and saying, ‘Chief, we need change here. There are gangs running this station. We need them.

“They are members of the community, and not just one or two, many of them. It is a problem. It must be fixed. We need change.

Villanueva’s victory four years ago was accompanied by strong support from community groups and reform-minded Democrats. But over the past four years, Villanueva’s support among those groups has dwindled as he repeatedly clashed with the Democratic-dominated Oversight Board over funding and policy issues. He also repeatedly defied Civilian Oversight Commission subpoenas and refused to enforce the county’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate among his deputies and department employees.

Villanueva’s campaign insists he has worked to restore public confidence in the sheriff’s department, pointing to the deployment of body-worn cameras and reinforcing minimum requirements for new deputies. The campaign also boasts that the agency is “the most diverse in the country.”

“During his next term, Sheriff Villanueva will work to reduce violent crime, compassionately clean up homeless encampments, and hold officials accountable for their actions,” his campaign said.

Speaking to his supporters after the June primary, Villanueva said he is “focused on what matters to people – homelessness and violent crime.”

“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing because it’s the right thing to do,” Villanueva said. “…My job is to keep the community safe. If that means I have to fight the Supervisory Board, so be it.

Luna argued during the campaign that the sheriff’s department was “mishandled” by Villanueva and said he would work to restore trust in the agency. He also touted his position as an outsider with no connection to the sheriff’s department.

“Growing up in East Los Angeles, patrolled by the Sheriff’s Department, opened my eyes to examples of good and bad policing and inspired my 36-year career in law enforcement” , Luna said in a candidate statement.

He said he would work to “modernize” the sheriff’s department and its prison system and improve the mental well-being of deputies and staff.

Denise W. Whigham