But already he is fighting off controversy following allegations of abuse at L.A.'s Men's Central Jail while under his watch.
Flanked by his supporters atop an overlook in Griffith Park, a former undersheriff confirmed the long-held speculation that he would be challenging his former boss in the race to become the highest-ranking law enforcement official in Los Angeles County.
"After 15 years of the same leadership, it's time for a new direction," Tanaka said Thursday.
Paul Tanaka said his candidacy for L.A. County Sheriff was born out of a need for a significant change in the department, which has come under scrutiny for allegations that out-of-control deputies mistreated inmates at Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.
"There are very clear lines of control and command, and if you don't have that and you have chaos in a law enforcement agency, it is very, very bad," said Tanaka.
A blue-ribbon commission on jail violence last year said that Tanaka and Sheriff Lee Baca failed to stop inmate abuse at Men's Central Jail. But it blamed Tanaka for creating a "culture of violence" at the jail.
Tanaka retired as the department's second-in-command in March. But he denies any wrongdoing.
"If you take a look at some of the investigations that they're focusing in on, they occurred during a period which I had absolutely no chain-of-command authority over the jails," said Tanaka.
Tanaka, who also happens to be mayor of Gardena, will face off against incumbent Lee Baca and at least three other candidates, including retired sheriff's commander Bob Olmsted, who alleges that Baca knew about inmate mistreatment at the jail.
Sheriff Baca has been sheriff in Los Angeles County for 15 years. He wouldn't go on camera Thursday but spokesman Steve Whitmore says the sheriff has remained committed to the department while at least two of his challengers have retired.
"The sheriff is not a man who cuts and runs," said Whitmore.
Whitmore says Baca is not going to respond directly to other candidates or their allegations until later in the campaign.
"He's staying because he believes his job is not done yet," said Whitmore.
Tanaka says he had no choice but to step down.
"We were no longer in agreement on most issues. And as an employee, what would I be subject to if I were running a campaign against my boss while I was still on the payroll?" said Tanaka.
Voters in L.A. County have plenty of time to consider their options for the June 2014 election.