West Hollywood City Councilmember Jeffrey Prang secured a narrow victory yesterday to become the next Los Angeles County assessor, beating Deputy District Attorney John Morris in a campaign for the post charged with managing the county’s $1.2 trillion property tax roll.
Final unofficial results from Tuesday’s election showed Prang defeating Morris by about 9,000 votes.
Both men said during the campaign they hoped to overhaul an office tainted by the last elected assessor, John Noguez, who is awaiting trial on corruption charges.
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, who has served for 18 years on the City Council, has said that he will step down from that seat immediately. That means four of the five Council seats will be on the March 2015 city election ballot. Incumbents John Heilman and John D’Amico have announced their intentions to run for re-election. Councilmember Abbe Land hasn’t yet said whether she will run for another term. The successful candidate for Prang’s seat will fill the two years remaining of his four-year Council term.
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 hoped to overhaul an office tainted by the last elected assessor, John Noguez, who is awaiting trial on corruption charges.
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 had 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 had 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 are also backing him, as are 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.