Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky built a commanding lead in early election returns Tuesday in his bid for a seat on the County Board of Supervisors, and Sheriff Sherman Block ran well ahead of his challengers.
County Assessor Kenneth P. Hahn also took a comfortable lead over a field of 15 challengers in his bid for reelection.
Supervisor Gloria Molina, running unopposed in the 1st Supervisorial District, which spans the eastern portion of the county, was reelected for a second term on the powerful five-member board.
"It looks very good, but I would like to get more votes in," Yaroslavsky said from his campaign headquarters at the Westwood Marquis. "I had no reason to believe at any time in this campaign that we couldn't win in the primary and I hope that by the end of the night we will achieve our goal."
The four county posts up for election this year are all nonpartisan offices in which candidates from all political parties run in the same primary. Any candidate who gets more than 50% of the vote in the primary wins without further balloting. If no candidate gets a majority, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held in November.
Under this system, coming in second can mean the chance to fight another day, and as results were tallied Tuesday some candidates took solace in being No. 2.
Despite trailing Yaroslavsky in early returns, supervisor candidate Don Wallace said he remained hopeful.
"Absolutely, we are keeping hope alive," Wallace, a retired fire captain, said from his Woodland Hills home. "This is going to be a long night."
Block, seeking his fourth term, has never been forced into a runoff. He said he was pleased with early returns that showed him running well ahead of his opponents.
"I am feeling very good about what I have seen to this point," he said.
Assessor Hahn said he was "guardedly optimistic" that he could hold onto an early lead and win the race outright in the primary.
John Lynch, who was unseated by Hahn four years ago and was seeking to reclaim the assessor's post, trailed by a wide margin in early returns. But he said he was hopeful that the gap would narrow. Lynch launched an eleventh-hour television and radio advertising campaign in the last several days, after most absentee ballots had been returned. Absentee ballots are the first results tallied.
The race for county supervisor in the 3rd District was thrown wide open in January when five-term incumbent Supervisor Ed Edelman decided to retire. Yaroslavsky immediately announced his intention to run for the seat, and seemed to discourage other well-known officeholders from joining the race.
He was hoping to succeed Edelman at the county just as he succeeded him on the City Council 18 years ago. In addition to Wallace, Yaroslavsky faced Elgin Trammell Sr., a former gang member and youth counselor, and Michael Hirsch, an environmental consultant.
Yaroslavsky entered the race with a $1-million campaign fund, a long list of endorsements and high name recognition in a district that overlaps most of his Westside and San Fernando Valley-area council district. The 3rd Supervisorial District encompasses the Westside, including the cities of Malibu, Santa Monica and West Hollywood, and most of the San Fernando Valley, including the cities of San Fernando, Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Hidden Hills and Westlake Village.
Block faced a field of five competitors who claimed that the department is poorly administered and suffers from low morale. Reserve Sheriff's Capt. Robert J. Irmas mounted the most serious challenge to Block, spending an estimated $200,000 on a last-minute barrage of TV and radio advertisements.
Three of Block's challengers--Deputy Gil Carrillo, Deputy Tab Rhodes and Sgt. John R. Stites II--are uniformed officers in the department, and Robert H. Lewis Jr. is a sergeant with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The sheriff oversees 8,000 sworn deputies and about 4,000 non-sworn personnel. The department is the fourth-largest law enforcement agency in the country, with jurisdiction over 42 cities and unincorporated county areas with a combined population of more than 2.5 million.
Many political analysts said Assessor Hahn's victory four years ago was a fluke, noting that he has the same name as popular former county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn. This year the assessor was hoping to win on the strength of his own record.
Hahn is responsible for preparing property tax bills.
The nonpartisan race for the $151,000-a-year post was dominated by Hahn and former Assessor Lynch. As in the 1990 election, many of the candidates are current or former employees of the assessor's office who are dissatisfied.
Winners of these county offices will be sworn in Dec. 5.