We’d been hearing the rumors for weeks, that after a long exploratory period in which Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell seriously considered running for Los Angeles Sheriff against Lee Baca, he was now in the process of deciding against the run.
Tuesday night it became official. Chief McDonnell will not be running for Los Angeles Sheriff. The LA Times broke the news early Tuesday evening, and here’s some of what the Times wrote:
Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell announced Tuesday evening that he will not be challenging Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca in next year’s election.
McDonnell, a well respected former top LAPD official, had been considering running for several months. If he had run, he would have been the most formidable challenger to face Baca since he became sheriff some 15 years ago.
In an interview with The Times, McDonnell said he made his decision over the weekend, after considering how much time it would take to raise funds. He said that task would have taken him away from his family and his duties in Long Beach.
“It would have been a year and a half ahead of me of fundraising and politicking,” said McDonnell, who served on the blue ribbon panel that blasted Baca for allowing a culture of abuse to form inside the nation’s largest jail system.
Now, the only definite challengers Baca faces are a little-known LAPD officer, Lou Vince, and a retired sheriff’s lieutenant, Patrick Gomez, who has run two failed campaigns before. Paul Tanaka, the controversial undersheriff who Baca recently pressured to step down, is also considering a run.
I called McDonnell myself right after the news broke. When he called back, he repeated some of what he told the Times, but elaborated a bit.
“Oh, it was a number of things,” he said. “And I was torn for a long time. I’d find myself thinking about it in the middle of the night.” But although he really tempted, he said, he meet with the requisite consultants, “and they outlined for me just how much money I’d have to raise.” What he need for a serious run, McDonnell said, was $2.4 million before the primary, and another $2.4 after. “Basically $5 million.”
McDonnell said he also took a hard look at what this kind of campaign and fundraising necessities would do to his ability to do the job he already has, namely heading the Long Beach Police Department, and also what the combination of present job and election would do to his family life.
“My two kids are coming home for the summer,” he said. (McDonnell has a 21 and a 23 year old, both ages that suggest that the summers during which they are likely hang out at home with mom and dad are fleeting. And McDonnell is an ardent family guy.)
Plus, he said, there are other things: He is the President of the LA County Chiefs and chair of the POST Commission (The statewide Commission on Peace Officers Standards & Training). “And I take those things seriously.” Of course, these positions were in no way deciding factors, but they too helped tilt the scale, at least a little.
Mostly, McDonnell said, it was the spector of a year and a half of non-stop politicking and asking for money that caused him to have a stern conversation with himself, which ultimately led him to reluctantly decide against the run.
So how does Chief McDonnell feel now that he’s decided?
“I’m relieved.” Meaning it was a relief to have it settled, he said. But, McDonnell also admitted that the relief is bitter-sweet, that he would have really enjoyed the challenge of leading the LASD, should the stars have so aligned.
“It helps that I’m working at a great job. Long Beach has been very good to me. And I really enjoy what I’m doing.” Thus he wants to make sure he continues to do right by the folks he serves.
And yet, and yet….as the very well-liked former Assistant Chief of the LAPD, second in command under Bill Bratton, and now the well-liked Chief of the Long Beach PD, McDonnell is nationally known and respected and, as the Times notes, he would have been a formidable challenger. Moreover, the fact that he was twice shortlisted for the job of LAPD chief makes clear that he is a man with an interest in running a big, complicated department. One assumes that interest has not altogether gone away.
The race between McDonnell and Baca would have been extremely interesting.
Sadly that interesting race is not to be.