Gardena Mayor Paul Tanaka announced this week that he is dropping his bid for a third term and will support his main challenger in the March election.
Though Tanaka's name will still appear on the ballot, he plans to cede the office to three-term Councilwoman Rachel Johnson.
If elected mayor, Johnson would be the first woman and the first African-American to hold the post.
Tanaka, who is facing some major controversies in his professional career as second-in-command of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, had previously said he would not seek re-election because of his demanding work schedule.
But he filed papers to run last month when it appeared no one else on the City Council would seek the office. Resident Philip J. Dent-Ferrell is also vying for the seat.
Tanaka said he had encouraged Johnson to run but she declined. In a letter addressed to her this week, he said he was surprised to learn she filed nomination papers.
"I offered to support your candidacy (but) you said you had no interest," Tanaka wrote. "You encouraged me to seek another term as mayor. After six years on the council and two terms as mayor, I was ready to step aside and give you the opportunity to take the helm. Unfortunately, your decision to declare at the last minute means we are both on the ballot."
Tanaka said he would cancel his campaign and fully support Johnson, a city resident for nearly 30 years.
"We haven't had a (contested) election for a while," Johnson said. "There should never be an election where a candidate is unopposed. I am still going to run a campaign. I want to make sure people understand where I'm coming from.
"Citizens have been disconnected and not engaged in what's going on in Gardena. Let's bring their interest and ideas back into city government."
Johnson said she believes Tanaka made a wise decision because he faces investigations into his role as the assistant sheriff in charge of Los Angeles County jails. The FBI is probing reports of inmate abuse at the hands of sheriff's deputies, and the department's decision to allegedly move a jailed FBI informant to prevent him from gathering information, according to published reports.
"At first, I didn't know the depth of his troubles," Johnson said. "I filed (election papers) because I wanted the conversation to be on the positive things that are going on in the city of Gardena. I didn't want the focus of the campaign to be on his professional troubles."
In the letter to Johnson, Tanaka said he is proud of his time as a Gardena councilman and mayor. The city has crawled out from beneath massive debt and near bankruptcy to now having a $10 million reserve savings account. In addition to the improved financial picture, the city has acquired a large police video surveillance system and added new park facilities, among other things.
"With our city in good shape, I feel it is a good time for a leadership transition," Tanaka wrote.
If elected to the mayor's position, Johnson would be the first woman and the first African-American person to hold the post.
Johnson has been a longtime educator with the Los Angeles Unified School District and member of United Teachers Los Angeles. She obtained her bachelor's degree in psychology from UCLA in 1982 and completed her master's in education in 2011.
Johnson said she would continue the conservative financial policies that have been so successful over the past decade, while also working to expand city programs.
"We want to look at new and creative ways to bring in new businesses," she said. "And reach out to different populations in the city - at-risk youth, teens, our senior activities. Also, have some programs that address the needs of the homeless in our city. But economic development is No. 1."
Johnson and her husband, Philip, have four children.
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