One thing is certain about the sheriff's race in Alexandria: Come Election Day in November, incumbent James H. Dunning's name will not appear on the ballot, as it has every four years since 1985.
Far less certain is who will take the helm.
This year's race pits two experienced law enforcement officers against one another: Detective Dana A. Lawhorne, a member of the Alexandria Police Department for 26 years; and William C. Cleveland, a retired U.S. Capitol Police officer who also was a longtime City Council member. Both are community fixtures who have equally vocal supporters.
Dunning, a Democrat who ran unopposed for all but the first of his five terms, announced in January that he would not seek reelection -- a decision he said he had reached with his wife, Nancy, before she was shot to death in their Del Ray home in December 2003. The crime is unsolved.
With more than six months before voters go to the polls Nov. 8, the two campaigns are on the march, with the candidates already outlining their plans for the job, which pays $113,761 annually. The candidates received their parties' nominations this month.
The two men said that modernizing the sheriff's department's aging facilities and continuing to increase security at the city jail are top priorities. The sheriff -- who has an annual budget of $20 million and more than 200 employees -- oversees the jail, which has housed such inmates as Zacarias Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and convicted spy Robert P. Hanssen.
Each candidate said that if elected, he would concentrate resources on rehabilitation efforts for inmates, including substance abuse programs and gang intervention. They would also tighten security at the courthouse, for which the department is also responsible, and have a more visible presence in the community.
The sheriff's office is also responsible for transporting prisoners and serving warrants.
Lawhorne, 47, a Democrat and a Del Ray native, said his boyhood dream was to become a city police officer. Over the years, he has worked as a patrol officer, a detective, a hostage negotiator and with youngsters, many of them troubled.
A father of three teenage girls, Lawhorne has served as chairman of the Police and Fire Pension Board, president of a youth camp and vice president of the local police association. He has also amassed a collection of commendations, including an outstanding police officer award in 1982. This is his first campaign.
Lawhorne has been publicly endorsed by Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney S. Randolph Sengel, who said Lawhorne has "given vision that helped make sense of cases that seemed senseless." He has also been endorsed by the local fire and police unions and the 80,000-member International Union of Police Associations.
He said he has raised just over $50,000.
"I see this as a great opportunity to lead an agency with the same motivation I've had as a police officer, a chance to go above and beyond the call of duty," Lawhorne said.
Cleveland, a Republican, grew up in Pittsburgh and served on the Alexandria City Council for 15 years, including two stints as vice mayor. Cleveland, 56, lost a bid for mayor in 2003.
After serving with the Army during the Vietnam War, Cleveland moved to Warwick Village in Alexandria. He worked as a campus police officer, first at George Washington University and then at Northern Virginia Community College, before joining the Capitol Police in 1974. He retired last year after working in the communications office and on various patrol assignments.
A father of two and grandfather of seven, Cleveland has served on several boards, including the Attorney General's Task Force on Gangs and Youth Violence, the State Board of Corrections and the Governor's Commission on Parole Abolition and Sentencing Reform. He has also been a mentor with the Untouchables program for at-risk youths.
"I truly believe I have the experience, the love of the community and the leadership to make my plans for the sheriff's office work," said Cleveland, who has raised almost $31,000 in campaign funds. "I can make this a safer Alexandria."
Christopher Marston, chairman of the local Republican Party, said Cleveland "also has a great vision for the sheriff's office."
"Just as important as keeping inmates in the jail, Bill's committed to keeping youth out of the criminal justice system through effective early intervention," he said.
Both candidates said their other goals for the office include making the 365-bed jail more than a holding place for inmates. They want the deputies to work closely with the offenders, helping them work through whatever issues led to their arrests.
Lawhorne has dedicated his campaign to Schuyler Jones, his eldest daughter's boyfriend and T.C. Williams crew member who was fatally beaten in Old Town last year. He wants the department to take a more active role in the community, from assisting the city's patrol officers to interacting with high school students to help keep them from a life of crime. Cleveland said he has similar ideas.