It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of next year’s sheriff’s race, since its outcome will likely affect two other prominent Dallas County seats: county judge and district attorney. If the Democratic incumbent, the perpetually embattled Lupe Valdez, wins, then Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, who has received nationwide kudos for tackling the county’s atrocious justice system, is flat-out untouchable. Even Jim Foster, our county judge who recently struggled to answer questions about his alleged drinking, can entertain ambitions of running for a second term. The same would hold if any of Valdez’s Democratic challengers took over her seat.
But if the Republicans win, Foster will probably get dumped by his own party, and Watkins may have to face a legitimate challenger.
Let’s run down the sheriff candidates, as the race is kicking off plenty early this year. Since I’ve been ignoring the Republicans for so long, let’s spend a little more time on them.
Charlie Richmond: A lieutenant in the Mesquite Police Department, Charlie Richmond promises to be a different kind of candidate. “I am not a career politician or a product of the ‘power brokers in smoked filled rooms,’ he says on his Web site. “I am now and always have been, a simple man of the people and have been either a police officer or a soldier all my life.”
Richmond is trying to carve out a niche for himself as the anti-illegal immigrant candidate and, as such, has won the endorsement of the Texas Minutemen and Farmers Branch Council member Tim O’Hare.
Catherine Smit: The current Cockrell Hill police chief is an affable, intelligent woman. I liked talking to her. But it’s hard to see her as sheriff material, being that she’s the police chief of a broke town that’s about one and a half square miles. (That’s only a little bigger than the West Village.) I wonder if they have a security guard whose eying the top law enforcement job in the county.
Smit though says that she’s turned over her long-troubled department and now she’s ready to do the same for the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department. She also says she plans to put the inmates to work by taking away their privileges if they don’t.
“They are allowed to play basketball under certain conditions,” she says of the inmates at the Dallas County Jail. “Well, to me, you shouldn’t play basketball until they put in a hard day’s work.”
I asked Smit how she can go from running the Cockrell Hill Police Department, with all of 15 or so cops, to taking over one of the biggest sheriff’s departments in the country. She says that she has the political skills to get along with the Dallas County Commissioners and the leadership intangibles to turn the jail around.
“It’s about knowing how to be a good salesman, knowing how to be a good speaker, knowing how to be a leader so that people want to follow,” she says.
On the communication front, Smit, a very young-looking grandmother of
twonine, actually doubles as a speaker and has her own Web site, where one of her presentations is called "The ABC’s of Sex and Dating." Could be good for conjugal visits, maybe?
Lowell Cannaday: The former Irving police chief is the star Republican (can I say that in Dallas County?) in the field and just received the endorsement of the Dallas Police Association. Interestingly, that show of support extends to the primary and the general election, should he make it that far. (Which he will, if you've read this far.)
Cannaday will be running off his résumé, which is more impressive than anyone else's in the race, Democrat or Republican. From 1966 to 2004, he worked at the Dallas Police Department, rising to the rank of assistant chief, then took a job heading up the Irving Police Department for another decade. He also served for two years on the Irving city council, before his wife took his seat. (If you know what I mean.)
Interestingly, unlike Valdez’s Democratic opponents, Cannaday doesn’t go out of his way to swipe at Valdez and instead touts his own background as the head of a department with a $42-million budget. That’s important, since if elected Cannaday will take over a jail that has flunked inspections and was the subject of a lawsuit from the United States Justice Department.
“I know for any organization this size, you need a CEO, somebody who not only has the experience in law enforcement but someone who has run large organizations with multi-million dollar budgets,” he tells Unfair Park. “It’s not just an entry- level position."
In a race that’s guaranteed to be nasty, Cannaday could be as divisive a candidate as Valdez, albeit for different reasons. The native Texan supports the Irving Police Department’s policy of turning over suspected illegal immigrants to the federal Immigration and Customs enforcement agency. In fact, as an Irving council member he endorsed a resolution supporting the measure, which has led to specific charges of racial profiling Hispanic drivers for petty offenses, such as driving without a busted tail light.
“I don’t see how anybody can argue against getting rid of the people who commit crimes in this country,” he says.
Regardless of his stance on referring illegals to the feds -- or maybe because of i t-- Cannaday is clearly the Republican candidate to beat. He has the most experience, the most money and the most endorsements from Republican fixtures including Dallas County Commissioner Ken Mayfield and former Dallas city council member Donna Blumer. The only challenge for Cannaday is to win without a runoff.
And now on to the Democrats.
Gil Cerda: Although he’s not officially in the race, the Dallas police sergeant, who is well-liked in the Hispanic community and works in the department’s media office, looks like he’s going to run.
“There is a very good possibility that I’m going to do it,” he tells Unfair Park. He says he’ll probably decide within a week, so we’ll check back in with him then.
Sam Allen: We just wrote about Allen two weeks ago, and not much has changed since then. He’s a 60-year-old career cop who worked for the city of Garland for 20 years, doing everything from working the beat to serving in the narcotics unit. Of the Democratic candidates in the race, Allen has the most local law enforcement experience.
Pete Schulte: Pete, if Charlie Richmond can have an active Web site by now, surely you could too, right? Especially when you were the first Democratic challenger to announce. Can we get on that?
Although Schulte doesn’t have a ton of law enforcement experience, or apparently much of an Interwebernets background, he has fronted all different sides of the criminal justice spectrum. He’s worked as a cop in McKinney, a prosecutor in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office and a defense attorney. That kind of perspective, he says, will help him manage a diverse enterprise like the sheriff’s department.
Schulte is a young guy who is not afraid to mock his party’s incumbent. Helping him out are a few Democratic fixtures, including consultant Anna Casey and former city council member John Loza. The trick for Schulte is to find a way to force a runoff and then catch fire in a one-on-one showdown with Valdez. .
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Lupe Valdez: Do we have to go over this again? Really? All right, then. Basically, Valdez can do one of two things to win re-election.
Convince the county that the United States Justice Department, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the county’s outside health consultant, the three attorneys who successfully sued the jail in federal court (and don’t think anything has changed), The Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Observer and the families of inmates who have died or fallen gravely ill at the jail are all wrong and the jail is not the filthy, disorganized, poorly managed, dangerous facility they’ve all portrayed it as.
Or, win the primary by outspending everyone else and riding the backs of the Democratic establishment before painting Cannaday as anti-Hispanic in the general election.
I’m no Carol Reed, but I suggest Valdez concentrate on option No. 2. --Matt Pulle