John J. Lynch became Los Angeles County tax assessor in 1986, despite having… (Los Angeles Times )
When attorney and Republican Party activist John J. Lynch ran for Los Angeles County tax assessor in 1986, he was shocked at the result — he won.
"It was a surprise," said Lynch, and he wasn't the only one taken aback. Lynch, who had never run for elective office, was up against 11 other candidates, including two former state Assembly members — Gordon Hahn and Jim Keysor. Lynch spent only a few thousand dollars on the campaign, whereas Hahn spent $100,000 and Keysor $185,000.
"I can't figure where John Lynch came from," Keysor said.
It turned out that Lynch benefited from the better-known candidates splitting the vote in some areas. But he also had a potent weapon — an endorsement by the well-known anti-tax crusader and father of Proposition 13, Howard Jarvis.
Lynch, who went on to win a bitter runoff election against Keysor to secure the nonpartisan assessor's job, never forgot his indebtedness to Jarvis. He had a large portrait of himself and Jarvis, side-by-side, on prominent display in his office.
Lynch, 77, died Oct. 6 at home in Northridge of cancer, former deputy district attorney Sterling Norris said this week.
Lynch's four-year term as head of the office of tax assessor — at the time a $45-million-a-year, 1,200-employee agency — was in some ways tumultuous. Less than a year after taking office, he was accused of assaulting one of his employees and threatening to fire him during an argument over union activities. Lynch said the incident was overblown, and that he only touched the employee's "arm with his open right hand." Eventually, the matter was dropped, with both sides agreeing not to take action against each other.
On another occasion, Lynch ordered county auditors out of his office, saying an audit was unnecessary because it would be reviewing procedures set up by a predecessor.
When he ran for reelection in 1990, his challengers portrayed him as a bully. And they cited millions of dollars in billing backlogs, which Lynch blamed on an inadequate computer system that he was taking steps to fix.
But probably Lynch's biggest blow during the campaign came when then-Mayor Tom Bradley withdrew his support of him and instead backed Kenneth P. Hahn.
By then Jarvis had died, and although Lynch was endorsed by the tax foe's widow, he lost the election to Hahn, who was no relation to longtime Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn.
In 1998, when he was working as a tax attorney in the San Fernando Valley, he ran for judge against an incumbent on the Superior Court but lost. Also unsuccessful was another bid for the tax assessor position in 2000.
John James Lynch was born in New York City on Nov. 4, 1936. He attended Fordham University in New York. Moving west, he worked as a deputy assessor in the Los Angeles County tax office for 14 years before running for the top spot.
While in the deputy position, he got his law degree at age 43 at the now-defunct Van Norman Law School. Asked during the 1986 campaign why he didn't practice as an attorney, he said, "I was not going to start at the bottom as a greenie with some law firm. ... I stayed with the assessor's office to run for assessor."
He described himself as an entrepreneur who helped take his family business — which produced plastic for use in making records — from $250,000 a year to $25 million. "I'm tough. I'm creative. I'm goal oriented," he said. Even his opponent admitted that Lynch worked hard, conducting a grass-roots campaign in which he personally met with hundreds of people a day.
Lynch, who was retired, is survived by his wife of 44 years, Eulalia.