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Jewish Sheriff in Los Angeles Dies During Re-election Campaign

Sherman Block, the first Jewish sheriff in the 148-year history of Los Angeles County, has died at age 74.

As head for 16 years of the nation’s largest county law enforcement agency, with 12,400 employees, Block was also the highest paid elected official in the United States, with an annual salary of $234,000

Born in Chicago into a closely knit Orthodox family, Block recalled in an interview that “nothing trefe ever came into our house. I remember every year bringing up the dishes from our basement to make them” kosher for Passover. His grandparents on both sides were immigrants from Eastern Europe.

After World War II, the future sheriff opened Block’s Kosher Kitchen on Chicago’s South Side. After the business failed, due to overexpansion, Block moved to Los Angeles. As “the best deli counterman in the business,” he quickly found work at the landmark Canter’s Deli on Fairfax Avenue.

But an old longing to become a law enforcement officer reasserted itself and at age 32 he applied for a job as deputy sheriff trainee.

He quickly rose through the ranks and was elected sheriff in 1982. He won three subsequent reelections handily, but was locked into a tight race for a fifth term when a massive brain hemorrhage caused his death Oct. 29.

A medium-sized man, bald and with a tendency toward plumpness, Block did not fit the Hollywood image of the lean, drawling, steely eyed Western sheriff, but he was an able administrator, whose popularity extended across the political spectrum.

Block considered himself as a role model, which, he said in an earlier interview, might encourage other Jews to wear a law enforcement officer’s uniform.

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