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Baca Challenger Wins Backing of Deputies Union

The group cites low morale in support for political novice Ken Masse, a retired captain.

April 14, 2006|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

The union that represents Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies is endorsing a retired captain in the upcoming sheriff's race, the second consecutive campaign in which the union has opposed Sheriff Lee Baca's reelection, a spokesman said Thursday.

Officials with the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs said they chose to support Ken Masse after reviewing results of a survey in which fewer than 10% of responding deputies said they supported Baca's reelection.

Steve Remige, the union's president, said deputies are demoralized and believe that the department has deteriorated since Baca took office in 1998.

Deputies are unhappy because they are often forced to work overtime to make up for a staffing shortage and they think the sheriff is too focused on social problems, such as homelessness, instead of street crime and other core issues, Remige said.

The union's decision follows a series of problems for Baca, including riots and killings in the county jails. Budget shortfalls also forced him to close jails and grant early release to more than 200,000 inmates, many of whom had served less than 10% of their sentences.

A campaign consultant for Baca questioned the significance of the endorsement, noting that the person the union backed in the 2002 election finished last of three candidates with 13% of the vote. Baca won reelection in 2002 with 72% of the vote and is incredibly popular in the community, said Parke Skelton, a Baca campaign consultant.

"We've never had an ALADS endorsement, and I'm not at all concerned about it," Skelton said. "I know how popular Sheriff Baca is, and there's no question he's going to be overwhelmingly reelected."

Fewer than 20% of the union's members cast ballots in the survey, which further minimized the relevance of the endorsement, Skelton said.

"Traditionally, they get a very low turnout. My sense is they get the most disaffected people" in the vote, Skelton said.

Masse retired as a captain last year after 35 years with the department to campaign full time for sheriff.

He said the endorsement is significant to his largely grass-roots campaign.

"The people inside the organization should know better than anyone whether the sheriff is doing a good job," Masse said. "The fact the deputy sheriffs stepped up and said, 'We need a change,' that's huge and that should say to the voters, 'We need to pay attention here.' "

Masse, 57, a first-time candidate for political office, said he expected the endorsement to help his fundraising efforts. Masse raised $150,000 in 2005 compared with $550,000 for Baca.

Baca is also facing challenges from Sheriff's Capt. Ray Leyva, Sgt. Paul Jernigan and Glendale Police Lt. Don Meredith.

If no single candidate wins a majority of the vote June 6, the two top finishers will meet in a November runoff.

Skelton said he does not expect any of the candidates to pose a significant challenge, adding that unless Masse dramatically increases fundraising, the endorsement will be meaningless.

"Ken Masse doesn't have enough of a campaign to tell anyone he's endorsed by ALADS. He hasn't raised enough money to run for Gardena City Council," Skelton said.

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