LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, opponent Alex Villanueva sound off ahead of Election Day

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- It's a contested race no one expected - Alex Villanueva, a retired sheriff's lieutenant, forced Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell into a runoff.

Villanueva said after the corruption of former Sheriff Lee Baca and his Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, the department still needs to be overhauled.

"He kept all the corrupt elements of the Baca and Tanaka administration. Their footsoldiers became his command staff, which is an enormous mistake all on its own," Villanueva said.

McDonnell was elected in 2014, the first outsider to win an election as sheriff in a century. He said in four years he has already brought big changes and the old command staff is gone.

"When you look at our senior command staff, over 80 percent of the people have moved on. They've got their time, they're fully vested and they retired," McDonnell said.

A big issue for the department is immigration enforcement. Villanueva has received the endorsement of the immigration activist organization CHIRLA. He wants to keep the department completely separate from the work of immigration officials.

"We're not going to be involved in federal Immigration enforcement. I'm going to create a very bright line between department's actions and ICE, and I'll actually physically kick ICE out of the county jails," Villanueva said.

That is something McDonnell agrees with.

"We do not want to be viewed as an arm of ICE in any way - we do not do immigration enforcement. What we we're doing here in Los Angeles County is basically giving ICE access only for those individuals who are convicted only of certain offenses, serious violent crimes," he said.

Villanueva spent 32 years with the sheriff's department. He got the endorsement of the county Democratic Party. He said his campaign is all about change.

"Day one, we are going to clean house at the top level. My executive staff - division chief and above - there is going to be massive change," Villanueva said.

McDonnell spent most of his career in the LAPD and was chief of Long Beach police. He has endorsements from Mayor Eric Garcetti and county Supervisor Hilda Solis. He said unlike his opponent, he has the experience for this critical job.

"This is a very different job. He's never had an actual command, he's never managed a budget. We have a $3.3 billion budget, and he's never administered discipline. All of these are critical components of being able to run particularly the largest sheriff's department in America," McDonnell said.
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