West Hollywood Councilman Jeffrey Prang narrowly led the race for Los Angeles County Assessor Tuesday, receiving 51 percent of the vote against Deputy District Attorney John Morris’ 49 percent with just over half of ballots counted.
In the June primary, Prang picked up 18.3 percent of the vote to Morris’ 16.6 percent while they fended off 10 other candidates seeking to manage Los Angeles County’s $1.2 trillion property tax roll.
Both men said they hope to overhaul an office tainted by the last elected assessor, John Noguez, who is awaiting trial on corruption charges.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, commenting on the election for KCAL9, highlighted the significance of the race.
“We need new leadership in that place, so this election is very important,” Yaroslavsky said.
Prang built a bigger campaign war chest and pulled in $259,000 in new contributions between July 1 and Oct. 18, according to campaign disclosure documents. Morris reported $129,000 in contributions during the same time period.
Prang cited his experience working as a special assistant in the assessor’s office and helping to lead reform efforts as critical to taking the reins as head of the department. He joined the office just weeks before Noguez took a paid leave of absence from the role and also worked in the assessor’s office in the 1990s. Prang has served on West Hollywood’s City Council since 1997.
“The Office of the Assessor needs a new leader who will restore the public trust, guarantee that taxpayers are assessed fairly and provide the best public service,” Prang said in a campaign statement.
Morris said his outsider status and 24 years of work as a prosecutor and manager within the District Attorney’s Office better position him to push through reforms. His campaign has also highlighted his experience as a real estate attorney and real estate license as important qualifications.
“Over the last 24 years, I have worked all over L.A. County protecting citizens and businesses from crime and fraud,” Morris said.
Morris was endorsed by Supervisor Michael Antonovich, the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Daily News and its sister papers — the Long Beach Press- Telegram, the Pasadena Star-News, the Daily Breeze and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. He is also supported by former Gov. George Deukmejian and the mayors of Diamond Bar, Walnut and West Covina, among other local officials.
Prang assembled a long and high-profile list of political endorsements, including Attorney General Kamala Harris, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., state Controller John Chiang and more than a dozen members of Congress, including retiring Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Beverly Hills. County Supervisors Don Knabe, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky and supervisor-elect Hilda Solis also backed him, as did Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, 13 of 15 Los Angeles City Council members and three former county assessors.
Noguez has been on a paid leave of absence, collecting roughly $200,000 in annual salary since his arrest in October 2012. He spent nearly five months in jail before posting $1.16 million bail.
Noguez is charged with dozens of felony counts related to illegally lowering property tax assessment for campaign contributors in wealthy Westside neighborhoods. A hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial is still pending.
As an elected official, Noguez cannot be fired by the county. A ballot measure that would allow the Board of Supervisors to appoint an assessor, rather than having one elected to the role, was defeated by 78 percent of voters in 2012.
“The assessor is an elected position because taxpayers wanted the official in charge of valuing their property to be directly responsible to them,” Morris said.
— City News Service