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Paul Tanaka Talks Candidly About Campaign for LA County Sheriff, Personal Passions, and his ‘Distrust’ of Lee Baca

 Paul Tanaka, candidate for Los Angeles County Sheriff during his visit and interview this week at Hews Media Group-Community Newspaper office in Cerritos.

Paul Tanaka, candidate for Los Angeles County Sheriff during his visit and interview this week at Hews Media Group-Community Newspaper office in Cerritos. Below video is courtesy of the Tanaka for Sheriff Campaign. 

By Brian Hews

Paul Tanaka is bound and determined in being elected the next Sheriff of Los Angeles County, and he has a message to his former boss, incumbent Lee Baca.

“I am running to win, and I am running as hard as I can, and this campaign is going to be about talking openly and honestly with the voters of Los Angeles County” Tanaka told Hews Media Group-Community Newspaper in a sit down interview this past week in Cerritos.

Next year’s already tense campaign to become the “top cop” of the County of Angels has attracted nearly a half dozen challengers to Baca, and the Primary election in 2014 is still ten months away.

Tanaka is a longtime political figure in the South Bay who has established solid local bases of supporters who he says are now “100 percent committed” behind his campaign to oust Baca.

“I know why I am running, and I understand how challenging this campaign is going to become,” Tanaka said.

Tanaka was born at Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles and has been a lifelong resident of Gardena.  Now 55 years old, the married father of two is a graduate of Gardena High School back in the Class of 1976.

“I remember when I ran and won an election to become President of the Gardena High School Key Club. It was an exciting time in my early life,” Tanaka recalled. “My dad sat me down after I won and he told me, ‘The success of your year as Key Club President won’t be determined by the work you do, it will be determined by the people you have surrounding you,” he said.

Tanaka has not forgotten that conversation with his father some nearly 40 years ago and said that he has applied that mantra as a local elected official and now as a candidate for Sheriff.

After Gardena High School, Tanaka, who is a Baptist in faith, enrolled at the Loyola Marymount University in the Culver City/West Los Angeles area that is owned and operated by the Roman Catholic Church.

“I had the best education and had the best of both worlds at Loyola Marymount,” Tanaka said.  He said he still keeps in contact with many of this past school mates from both high school and college and have relied on their loyal support for years.

Tanaka and Baca both began their professional careers in the Artesia/Cerritos community.

Baca was a former teacher at Faye Ross Junior High School in Artesia and Tanaka’s first job was around a mile away at a Certified Public Accounting Firm on the corner of Marquardt Avenue and Artesia Boulevard.

Since then Baca and Tanaka have been on similar career paths climbing the political ladder at the LA County Sheriff’s Department side by side.

Now the two are fierce rivals.  “The only time I have seen Lee since I left the department was a couple of months ago a trial in Downtown LA where we were both testifying. We did exchange a hand shake, but that was it,” Tanaka said.

Tanaka has built an impressive team of early supporters and donors in his race against Baca.  Tanaka announced his campaign plans under a blistering Southern California sun last month with around two dozen law enforcement officials and supporters at his side on a helicopter pad near Dodger Stadium.

The budding politician gathered a “team” of around a dozen close friends, none of whom had ever been involved in any political campaign and started to map out a plan that would eventually get him elected to the Gardena City Council.

“None of us had a clue how to run a campaign, we were running against the city hall insiders and no one ever expected us to come close in the campaign, let alone get the top vote,” he said.

Tanaka said he purchased several copies of a book written by then Congressional Speaker Tip O’Neill about “how to run for political office.”  The book called “All Politics is Local: And Other Rules of the Game” became the “Tanaka Campaign Bible.”

“It was like reading a how to get elected to local office guide, so we followed the script of the book, and sure enough, we won that first election and sent a loud message to the old guard that Gardena needed to move forward with new blood,” he said.

Since then, Tanaka has never lost an election, and has become a local hero to many in Gardena for helping save the municipality from a “certain financial meltdown” in the late 1990’s.

“We were $5.2 million in the red and we were literally within hours of declaring bankruptcy but we dug in our heels,” Tanaka said.   He recalled summoning Gardena’s city manager, and top executives from banks in New York in one room and told those assembled “no one is leaving this room until we get a deal to fix this crisis.”

Within hours, Tanaka and Gardena city officials had avoided bankruptcy and said “we got a new lease on life.” Gardena went from having “junk bond ratings to a financial score on of AA-Stable.”

His political mentor is former Gardena Mayor and Councilmember Mas Fuki, whom Tanaka called a “legend in the Japanese-American community.”

Fuki, who was also a longtime aide to former Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn called Tanaka on the phone “out of the blue one day” and told him
“Gardena is in trouble, and we need your help.”

“It was like getting a call from God, so to speak.  When Mas calls and tells you to help, you do exactly as he says,” Tanaka said.

Gardena, like most cities in the South Los Angeles/South Bay area had suffered a long period of what Tanaka called “urban decay compounded with out of control crime and gangs.”

He said he is a “huge advocate and vocal supporter” of the Gardena Police Department that has around 90 sworn officers. Tanaka, who worked at the time as a Lieutenant with the much larger Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, says that he has “never pushed to have the Sheriff’s to come into Gardena as its law enforcement agency.”

“The Gardena Police Department is amazing and does an incredible job in protecting our entire community,” he said. Tanaka also pointed to statistics from different government agencies that “prove Gardena is one of the safest cities in the entire South Bay.”

Lee Baca

Lee Baca (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“This campaign is about creating a new environment within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” Tanaka said.

During his first campaign address Tanaka said, “Our county Sheriff’s Department is in desperate need of new leadership.” said Tanaka.

“As one of the most complex police agencies in the country, our Sheriff’s department’s responsibilities to the community require a leader that is engaged, trustworthy and dedicated to the future of the department. It is crucial, now more than ever, that our department’s leaders are unified in their goals to maintain safety within our jails, decrease crime in our communities and preserve a fiscally transparent department budget,” he said.

“When I am elected Sheriff, I will ensure our employees have leadership that is clear, consistent and sensible.”

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  • David Lazarus says:

    I don’t like this guy. He boasts that his father told him 40 years ago that “the success of your year as Key Club President won’t be determined by the work you do, it will be determined by the people you have surrounding you.” Well my reply to that is…EXACTLY! Sheriff Baca allowed this weasel to run the jails and oversee the day-to-day operation of the department and look what happened! A bunch of renegade, tatoo’d macho men headbangers became the department’s new “norm” and Baca had no choice but to fire the bad apples, starting with TANAKA!

    We don’t need a police department run by outlaw trigger happy thugs wearing badges and that’s exactly the attitude Tanaka promotes. It’s time people open their eyes and wise up. Mark my word, the residents of the County of Los Angeles will REGRET it if they vote for this guy.

    • Francis T. says:


      I love your enthusiasm but unfortunately you are misinformed. Mr. Tanaka was never in charge of the jails when all of the jail issues occurred. His span of control unfortunately did not cover the jails or maybe none of this would have happened. I’m not sure who the “bunch of renegade, tatoo’d macho men” are but until you cut the head of the snake off, it’s still going to be dangerous.

      Take a look at the Gardena Police Department…apparently, they’re doing something right. That city council is on the right track. Keep up the great work City of Gardena!

  • Scott Mayberry says:

    Paul Tanaka has proven himself amongst colleagues and community members to be a leader. He would be a great County Sheriff who I intend to support 100%. Smart, Energetic, Fiscally Responsible. That’s what Los Angeles County needs. Thank you Paul Tanaka for stepping up to the plate!

    You will be our next LA Sheriff!

  • gilman says:

    Well we, the voters, are faced with two poor choices. Baca is terrible and Tanaka spent his professional career assisting Baca. Hopefully other candidates will step forward.

  • Harold R. says:

    Tanaka is a cheat and a liar. Check out some of these articles. http://www.laweekly.com/search/results/keyword:Tanaka/type:all/

    Tanaka is also a tattooed member of the Lynwood Vikings. He got this tattoo after killing a Korean man in the 80’s. do your homework before voting. This man is trouble.

  • Notworthreading says:

    Not true! And Tanaka wants you to believe his lies! People were tortured and beaten at the bequest of Tanaka and his thugs.

    Francis: Ask you hero Tanaka what crime of violence he had to commit to get his Viking tattoo?

  • Patrick says:

    Yes Tanaka killed a Korean man in the 80s…along with 4 other Deputies and in self defense. They chased a coked out Korean at 2am from Compton to Long Beach and cornered him. Giving him commands, the driver refused to surrender and instead put his car in reverse while the Deputies were directly behind the car. The car started to roll back at them, one Deputy jumped out of the way to avoid being hit and the rest opened fire. What’s trigger happy about that? And so what if he has a tattoo? Don’t people in the military get tattoos of the units they are in? Its a pride thing, pride for their station or their training.

  • CrackerJack says:

    Tanaka sounds like Obama, the Dodger in Chief!
    It’s Bush’s fault!, it’s Congress’ fault! it’s the greedy Corporation’s fault! Obama has been president for the past 5 years and it’s time he owns HIS record. Tanaka has also ran the Dept. for the past 5 years and it is time he owns HIS record. Anybody on the Dept. knows this and any major decision had to go through the little tyrant. Tanaka has already had his chance to be the sheriff and look what it’s brought us. Scandal, embarassment and costly law suits. It’s time to take out the trash. Goodbye BANAKA! It’s time for REAL change and ethical leadership. Elect Bob Olmsted.

  • The Shadow Knows says:

    Francis, it is you who are misinformed, or are being intentionally misleading. Tanaka was the problem and Baca let him run amok! It is correct when you say when the serious abuse problems at Central Jail were revealed, Tanaka was the Asst Sheriff over patrol and detectives. HOWEVER, these problems had been brewing for years and began and festered while Tanaka WAS the assistant Sheriff in charge of the jails and courts and Waldie was the Asst Sheriff over patrol and detectives. Tanaka set the stage for the abuse to occur.

    It was Tanaka who interferred with the jail supervisors and managers who were trying to do the right things in controlling brutality and the illegal actions of some deputies. He threatened to “put a case, (an internal affairs investigation), on any supervisor who interferred with the rogue deputies Tanaka wanted to “take care of business”.

    It was Tanaka who encouraged deputies to “Work in the Gray” and then ordered supervisors to leave them alone to do as they wished. It was Tanaka who developed his personal snitch line where deputies could contact him directly, to complain that they were being picked on by their supervisors, (supervisors who were doing their jobs and trying to get a handle on some out of control cowboy deputies). Tanaka, never followed up on the snitch calls by investigating the complaints or asking the supervisors to explain their actions, he simply attacked the supervisors, (punishing them, transferring them or publically chastizing them).

    Tanaka is just a vindictive, mean-spirited and foul mouthed bully. Electing him as Sheriff would be horrible for the LASD and the public they serve. I follow the ABT principle, (Anyone But Tanaka!)


    I’m voting for Bob Olmsted for Sheriff in 2014, he is the guy who had the guts to step forward and reveal the mis-conduct and mis-management after Tanaka interferred with his attempts to correct problems and Baca turned a blind eye and blew Olmsted off twice when he tried to tell him about the problems, But Baca didn’t want to hear about it.

    Bob Olmsted is the only one who has clearly demonstrated the honesty and integrity needed to fix the mess created by Baca and Tanaka

  • Truth Seeker says:

    The truth is Sheriff Baca is in competent and has proven that by blaming everyone but himself. Remember, you get what inspect not what you expect. For those who use the words liar and weasel, you are misinformed and misguided. You know nothing of the man, Paul Tanaka. He is the guy who turned around the Department’s Budget after 20 years of overspending because of a lack of competence by those that came before him. This saved the taxpayers, tens of millions of dollars over the years. In fact, he created a surplus that provided every unit on the Department to purchase needed equipment they would have NEVER gotten if not for him. Mr. Tanaka worked 13 and 14 hour days and weekends to keep the Department afloat. Why no mention of that. As for Olmsted, he was both the Captain of the Jail and the Commander over several jails and failed to get anything done because he did not have the leadership strength to make the hard decisions. He is the one who failed to do his job. At those levels of rank, you don’t need to push things up to anyone, you are considered the “Chief of Police” as a Captain and you fix what needs fixing. He failed as a Captain to do any of that. As a Commander, he failed to manage his personnel and blames others for his indecision and week leadership abilities. Paul Tanaka has proven himself and the facts speak for themselves. Back and Olmsted have failed horribly and those facts speak for themselves. Now lets move on and promote the most effective leader to the position of Sheriff and bring back this failing Department to the days of being a leader nationwide in Law Enforcement and Public Safety.

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