Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is back in the political arena, this time as a candidate against two-term L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn.
The combative ex-sheriff, who lost his bid for reelection in November to former Long Beach Police Department Chief Robert Luna 61.3% to 38.7%, announced his campaign on Wednesday, Sept. 13, taking shots at Hahn and other political targets during a press conference in Whittier.
Villanueva also called for the defeat or removal of other elected county officials, including Sheriff Luna, District Attorney George Gascon and other county supervisors running for reelection.
“We are going to take control of county government and make it work for you. It is as simple as that,” Villanueva said, standing in front of a backdrop that read “Save LA 2024.”
According to some political campaign experts in L.A. County, it will not be easy for Villanueva to overtake Hahn, a legacy candidate whose father was a county supervisor from 1952 to 1992 and who the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration is named after.
The first test comes at the primary election on March 5, 2024.
Villanueva supporter Gil Carrillo, who retired from the Sheriff’s Department after serving 38 years, stood alongside Villanueva at a Whittier-area restaurant and said, “The county is broken and we need some help. It’s time for new energy inside the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.”
Hahn’s campaign consultant, David Jacobson, called Villanueva “the Donald Trump of Los Angeles County,” and said county voters, including those in Hahn’s Fourth District, “resoundingly rejected” his attempt to stay on as sheriff due to his “incompetence and corruption.”
Villanueva focused the majority of his hour-long press conference on crime, saying smash-and-grab robberies have become the norm. He criticized the Sheriff’s Department’s response to a robbery last month at a Nike store in East Los Angeles. He said Gascon is to blame for rising crime by not prosecuting misdemeanor crimes.
He also said he was opposed to nonprofits getting funding to build permanent housing for the homeless. “The homeless industrial complex is target number one,” Villanueva said. He supports providing mental health services to the unhoused.
Villanueva criticized the supervisors’ “care first, jails last” policy approved by voters as part of Measure J in 2020. L.A. County officials estimate that $360 million to $900 million will go to social services including housing, mental health treatment and alternatives to incarceration through Measure J.
Villanueva called the voter-approved measure “nonsense” and added: “They (Board of Supervisors) are concerned about the welfare of criminals, not victims.” He objected to what he called shrinking the Sheriff’s and Probation departments’ budgets.
When asked why solved homicides saw a drop under his watch, Villanueva blamed the Board of Supervisors for what he said was a hiring freeze that prevented him from adding detectives. But he later said that as sheriff he was able to hire 1,000 new deputies.
Hahn’s campaign consultant Jacobson said, “L.A. County became less safe under Villanueva’s reign.”
Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College said on Wednesday, “I think he would start as an underdog.”
Pitney said, “The district has a substantial number of Hispanic voters. He may be hoping that will be a base of support. But in the sheriff race, the district voted for Luna.”
As for running on a platform of reducing crime, Pitney added: “A lot of the increase in crime in Los Angeles happened on his watch. He doesn’t have a strong rhetorical basis.”
Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State Los Angeles, said on Wednesday, “Janice Hahn has no worries.”
Regalado said, “He basically got slaughtered by the new sheriff (Luna). There is nothing in this world that would allow Villanueva to win against Janice Hahn.”
Joel Fox, adjunct professor at Pepperdine School of Public Policy, said, “I think it’s important to have a competition of ideas for public office. So let the debate begin.”
The Fourth District spans 411 square miles and contains more than 2 million people. It runs from Torrance, Palos Verdes, San Pedro and Long Beach up through the 605 Freeway corridor cities to Whittier, then west to Huntington Park, Lynwood and South Gate.
After stints on the L.A. City Council and in Congress, Hahn was elected to the board in 2016 and was reelected to another term in 2020 and currently serves as the board’s chair. Since supervisors are limited to three terms, if she wins in 2024, it will be her last term.
“My fight for the people of the 4th District is far from over,” Hahn said in a prepared statement after announcing earlier this year that she was running for a third term. “The battle to create transformative, positive, and lasting change on behalf of the hard-working people of L.A. County must go on – and I plan to be at the tip of the spear of this fight.”
Hahn was endorsed by numerous city council members in her district, as well as Long Beach Mayor Rex Richardson. She also was endorsed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Villanueva calls himself a centrist Democrat, after initially running as a progressive. But he said he no longer followed progressive politics after some members called for defunding the police. He said he has no intention to join the Republican Party.
“His base now does not include liberal Democrats and much fewer progressives,” Pitney said. “When challenging someone like Hahn, that is not going to be enough.”
Also declaring his intention to run for the supervisorial seat is Rancho Palos Verdes Councilmember John Cruikshank.
All three candidates filed campaign finance report forms with the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. Official filings to get on the March 5 ballot take place later this year.
“I’m confident the party will support chair Hahn in the reelection,” said Mark Gonzalez, L.A. County Democratic Party Chair.