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Luna will be the next Los Angeles County sheriff after Villanueva concedes


It looks like Los Angeles is closer to electing its first woman mayor. Congresswoman Karen Bass expanded her small lead over developer Rick Caruso in the latest vote count. But there is no uncertainty that LA voters have thrown out their controversial incumbent sheriff. Frank Stoltze of member station KPCC has been following both races.

Frank, let's start with that sheriff's race. Tell us a little bit more about the incumbent who was ousted.

FRANK STOLTZE, BYLINE: Well, Sheriff Alex Villanueva was swept into office four years ago on a promise to be a progressive reformer. One big promise, to kick federal immigration agents out of the jails - that especially resonated with people at a time when then President Trump was promising mass deportations. The local Democratic Party endorsed Villanueva, and this retired lieutenant with no command experience pulled off this huge upset victory to lead the largest sheriff's department in the country.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So why did voters reject him this time?

STOLTZE: Well, Villanueva being didn't exactly turn out to be the reformer they thought they elected. Rather than address problems with things like excessive force and racial profiling and inhumane conditions inside the jails, he mostly defended his 10,000 deputies. And he didn't just lash out at his critics. He launched criminal investigations into them, even conducting a raid on the homes of a county supervisor and a member of the civilian oversight commission weeks before the election.

The sheriff liked to call himself an honest man in a den of thieves, even as he faced allegations of covering up misconduct. Villanueva took to calling the media and other elected officials in LA part of the woke left and portrayed himself as their victim. And in the end, he became a darling of Fox News. There was so much frustration with Villanueva that voters approved a measure in this election that now allows the board of supervisors to remove an elected sheriff with a four-fifths vote.

MARTÍNEZ: So just to be clear, voters can vote on a sheriff, but the county supervisors can remove that sheriff.

STOLTZE: That's right.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. Now, the next sheriff, Robert Luna - looks like he's going to be sworn in in - what? - about three weeks?

STOLTZE: Right. Luna is a retired police chief from the city of Long Beach in South LA County. That agency is a fraction of the size of the sheriff's department. So he faces a significant learning curve. He'll be an outsider leading an agency that doesn't like outsiders. Luna's promised a 180 degree difference from Villanueva, but it's unclear how much of a reformer he'll be. He is a traditional police leader at a time when people are demanding a lot of changes in law enforcement.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Let's turn now to the LA mayor's race. One candidate spent $100 million. Seems like, though, that might not be enough.

STOLTZE: Yeah. You couldn't turn on the TV or watch a YouTube video or go on social media without seeing Rick Caruso's name. He outspent Congresswoman Karen Bass by at least 10 to 1. Gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates across the country didn't spend that kind of money. But Caruso only recently became a Democrat, after being a lifelong Republican. And Bass was endorsed by the Democratic Party in deep-blue LA.

So despite voters seemingly longing for a political outsider to fix the city's continuing homelessness crisis and city hall corruption, they appear to have turned to Bass. She's a physician assistant who became a community organizer in South LA and rose through the elected offices to become speaker of the state assembly. She's been in Congress for the past 12 years, where she was known as a pragmatist and was once on the list to be President Biden's vice presidential running mate.

MARTÍNEZ: That is the great Frank Stoltze from member station KPCC.

Frank, thanks.

STOLTZE: Thanks, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Frank Stoltze