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No Endorsement in Sheriff Race

October 25, 1998

Los Angeles County voters deserve to know why they have been presented with such a distasteful choice for sheriff: the ailing Sherman Block or the erratic Lee Baca. Let us point out why the prospects in this race are too dismal to command an endorsement of either candidate.

Part of the problem is that the sheriff's office is an odd political power center. Unlike in other elected posts, the officeholder traditionally comes from law enforcement. Ultimately and unfortunately, that often means that members of the Sheriff's Department are the only candidates for this very important job.

The current sheriff, the seriously ill Block, has failed the county miserably. He built an inner circle of top officials who were either uninterested in being sheriff or weren't qualified. Count Baca among the latter. For Block, this amounted to a self-fulfilling prophecy: He says he must run, because who else is there?

Block has had huge problems: independently confirmed budgetary waste; releasing the wrong people from jail, while keeping others past their release dates; vigilante jail guards and internal corruption; near Bedlam-like conditions for mentally ill inmates; the apparent overuse of force in two key sheriff's stations.

Baca, meanwhile, has run a campaign full of strange comedic twists that ultimately are more scary than funny. More than once he has denied on-the-record statements he made to reporters. This is called lying, and if he is willing to do it on small matters how can he be trusted as sheriff? Baca hasn't even been able to articulate why he wants the post. If he can't explain that, how can he think he deserves the office? Indeed, he doesn't deserve it.

Nor does Block, who is in such personal denial that he equates his ability to qualify for a kidney transplant as a sign of good health. Perhaps the best that might be hoped for is that if Block wins, and proves whatever he's trying to prove, he'll have the good sense to step down and let the county supervisors choose an interim successor to serve until the next general election.

The L.A. County sheriff has a crucial job. His department runs the nation's largest county jail system and maintains patrol duties in unincorporated areas and, under contract, for several small cities that can't afford a police force.

The Times cannot in good conscience recommend either of these candidates. There will be a winner, but it won't be Los Angeles County.

For other Times endorsements, go to the Internet site http://www.latimes.com/endorsements.

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