The actual job of being the sheriff of Fairfax County usually is not as exciting as the campaign for the job. The job is not the police chief, as it is in Loudoun County; it’s the operator of the county jail, the guardian of the county courthouse and the server of civil papers like subpoenas and evictions, as it is in Alexandria, Arlington and Prince William.
The campaigns, on the other hand, usually involve a decent helping of mud, such as two years ago when Republicans attacked incumbent Democrat Stan Barry for entering the county’s deferred retirement program and then continuing to hold office.
But Barry retired mid-way through his term. And this election, the mud has been fairly low-key, with the worst dirt being whether voters care that the Democratic nominee, sheriff’s Capt. Stacey Kincaid, may own an assault rifle, or that the Republican nominee, former Fairfax City Officer Bryan Wolfe, has had his truck and property repeatedly vandalized since he entered the race. If neither of those issues blows up in the next two weeks, Kincaid is poised to become the first female sheriff of Fairfax County, ending a 271-year hold on the job by the previous 76 men.
In increasingly liberal Fairfax, the race may have been won in July, when Kincaid outmaneuvered current acting Sheriff Mark Sites for the Democratic nomination. This race featured two prominent Fairfax politicos working behind the scenes: former Fairfax board chairman and Secretary of the Commonwealth Kate Hanley advising Kincaid, and ex-Sheriff Barry, son of former county clerk and state Sen. Warren Barry, guiding Sites. Barry promoted Sites rapidly through the ranks to chief deputy, in a way which irked some of the rank-and-file, and had him in position to be named acting sheriff when Barry retired in June.
But Kincaid, 48, was getting invaluable assistance from Hanley, who is not only a family friend but also wants to see more women get elected to public office, which is hard to argue with. Kincaid is a 26-year veteran of the sheriff’s office who has worked in all four of its divisions, and is very knowledgable about the internal issues such as the budget and promotions process, civil service protection and mentally challenged inmates that are the nuts-and-bolts problems facing the sheriff. Not sexy issues, to the public, but the major items the next sheriff will deal with.
So Kincaid racked up endorsements from professional groups and key Democrats, actively courted immigrant communities, campaigned tirelessly — her Facebook page of events attended is endless — and then trounced Sites in a heavily attended caucus at W.T. Woodson High School, 63 percent to 37 percent.
At that point, the Republicans didn’t even have a candidate. Up stepped Wolfe, 52, who retired after 26 years as a Fairfax City patrol officer and sergeant, and he received the Republican nomination in August. Two independents, security analyst Robert Rivera and propane salesman Chris DeCarlo, also joined the ballot. Rivera, who worked as an Arlington sheriff’s deputy for five years in the 1990s and has held a variety of jobs since, including helping oversee military police forces in Afghanistan, said he would make the Fairfax sheriff’s office more visible in the community. DeCarlo, who is also running for a delegate’s seat, admitted at one forum he only recently learned what the sheriff does. He then performed a rap about “catching these thieves,” which is not what the sheriff does.
Wolfe is a considerably more serious candidate, and one of the first things he did was to file a Freedom of Information Act request for all of Kincaid’s e-mails and phone records, which he said cost him about $4,000. What he received were some e-mails indicating that Kincaid apparently legally purchased a couple of AR-15 rifles from a dealer in Maine earlier this year. Then several months later at a Democratic debate, in discussing “assault weapons,” Kincaid said, “if you want to own a gun to keep yourself safe I’m not sure that you need an arsenal or weapons of that magnitude in order to do so.”
Wolfe said he decided to enter the race after hearing that comment, since it was apparently common knowledge in the sheriff’s office that Kincaid had such guns. “That upset me tremendously that she said that,” said Wolfe, “She’s a hypocrite.”
Kincaid said, “I’m a law enforcement officer, the only one in this race, and I have guns.” She said she had passed background checks and purchased guns legally, but declined to say what specifically she owns. “I’m pretty sure the community has an expectation that law enforcement officers have weapons and are proficient with the same ones the bad guys use. I’m not hypocritical. I support expanding background checks, which my opponent who is an NRA member does not. I don’t make the laws, I support the laws.”
As the only county-wide office on the ballot this year, Kincaid and Wolfe have participated in nine community forums sponsored by the League of Women Voters that also featured various Fairfax state delegate races. In those forums, Wolfe has raised eyebrows by saying he would immediately seek to fire a handful of Fairfax deputies who he feels are unacceptable for various legal or ethical violations, and he would not grant deputies civil service protections. He wants more mental health training for deputies, and said he would donate his salary to charity. Wolfe also said the county jail needs cameras with recording capacity to capture any possible misdeeds by deputies or inmates. And in a recent forum, Wolfe vented about four recent vandalism incidents against his vehicles, his home flower beds and his signs. He said this was because “I have the courage to run for sheriff.”
Kincaid said she would not fire anyone and would sign an agreement to place deputies under civil service protection, in which they cannot be fired at will and can appeal disciplinary actions to a county board. She said there are plenty of cameras already in the county jail, monitored 24/7, and that the system is being upgraded. But installing a massive recording system would be very costly and “is a solution in search of a problem,” since there are only about two complaints of excessive force filed against deputies per year.
Kincaid wants to make the sheriff’s promotional process more “fair and transparent,” to ensure that the staff “reflects the diversity of our community.” She has said at many public appearances that “we don’t have a diverse command staff with one white woman and five white guys.” Kincaid said she would develop citizen outreach groups in Fairfax’s minority communities. She also wants to reduce recidivism by working with the business and labor communities to develop training for inmates, and she wants to work more with the mental health community to help those with mental illness both during and after confinement.
Rivera, who has also been a car salesman and a McDonald’s franchise operator in addition to a military security consultant, said he wanted deputies to make more public appearances to increase the visibility and desirability of the sheriff’s office. He said he wanted to make the jail less of a holding facility for those with mental illness, possibly by releasing them with tracking bracelets.
The financial aspect of the campaign is notable mainly for the utter lack of support that Republicans have given Wolfe so far. While Kincaid has a variety of donations from local Democratic groups and officials, including one last month from former Sheriff Barry, Wolfe reports only two donations total: $50,000 from his father-in-law, Alexandria dermatologist Joseph Kaufman, and $150 from the George Mason Republican Women. Wolfe has loaned himself another $75,000 (his wife is also a dermatologist), so he has outraised Kincaid $125,000 to about $77,000 from two sources. Rivera reports raising $1,500 as of Sept. 30 and DeCarlo has raised $175 for his two races.
And because no one would really object to a rapping sheriff, here is DeCarlo’s campaign rhyming platform. He apparently also rides a horse, which a sheriff could do, but might be impractical for guarding inmates or securing the courthouse.