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Sheriff Pulls Out of Debate

Election: Baca thought he was invited to an endorsement interview, not a candidates forum. Opponents say he is ducking questions.

January 04, 2002|BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has pulled out of the only scheduled debate before the March election, leaving his two opponents--Sgts. Patrick Gomez and John Stites--challenging their boss to future forums.

Baca's campaign manager, Parke Skelton, said the sheriff was under the impression that he had been invited by the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Assn. to a one-on-one endorsement interview--not a forum with his challengers.

"He was willing to be interviewed," Skelton said.

"But when it was changed into a public debate, it didn't feel appropriate. It would warp the issues as they came up" if the conversation were public and the others were present.

But Roger Mayberry, president of the peace officers group, said he had lunch with Baca and explained the format to him.

The members planned to ask the three candidates questions and later were to recommend an endorsement to the peace officers' board of directors.

"I believe it was explained to him very well," Mayberry said, adding that his group has long had a solid relationship with the sheriff.

"I feel it's important for him to come. I'm hoping he'll change his mind."

Gomez and Stites, who hope to unseat their boss March 5, say that they will call for more debates, but that they believe Baca does not want to face questions about his leadership or integrity.

"I think the bottom line is that he really doesn't care about the people in the department and their concerns. There are so many questions they will ask," said Gomez, who ran against Baca and then-Sheriff Sherman Block four years ago.

Baca won that race after Block died shortly before election day.

Stites, who ran unsuccessfully against Block and several others in 1994, said Tuesday's scheduled forum was intended to offer the candidates a chance to present their issues to members of the peace officers group.

Still, he said, Baca "will be asked again and again to come out and speak. People like to see the exchange."

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