For the first time in 20 years, Alexandrians will not find James H. Dunning's name on the ballot for sheriff. But voters Tuesday will choose between two candidates who are experienced law enforcement officers and community fixtures.
On the Democratic ticket is Detective Dana A. Lawhorne, a member of the Alexandria Police Department since 1979. His opponent is former Republican City Council member and retired U.S. Capitol Police officer William C. Cleveland. The candidates have participated in several public debates during the campaign, with each offering a number of initiatives and improvements for the department, which has more than 200 employees and an annual budget of more than $20 million.
The Sheriff's Office is responsible for transporting prisoners, serving warrants and overseeing the city jail, which has housed numerous high-profile prisoners over the years, including convicted spy Robert P. Hanssen and Zacarias Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty this year to conspiracy in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Lawhorne -- with endorsements from Mayor William D. Euille (D); the city's chief prosecutor, S. Randolph Sengel; and U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D), among others -- says he would modernize the Sheriff's Office's aging facilities and continue to increase security at the jail, not because it is unsafe but because of the high-profile inmates occasionally housed there. Most recently, New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who was being held on contempt charges in the federal CIA leak investigation, spent almost three months there.
Lawhorne said he also would concentrate resources on rehabilitation of inmates, including substance abuse and gang intervention programs.
Lawhorne also vows to tighten security at the courthouse, for which the Sheriff's Office is responsible. He also wants sheriff's deputies to be more visible in the community, in such roles as aiding the city of Alexandria's police officers and offering other kinds of public assistance to residents.
Cleveland, who was recently endorsed by Dunning, said he would work with local courts to establish a gang-intervention unit, create a program that would make identification tracking bracelets available for people with Alzheimer's, dementia and autism, and would work with police to ease rush-hour traffic.
Cleveland, 56, who is a Pittsburgh native, served on the Alexandria City Council for 15 years, including two stints as vice mayor. He lost a bid for mayor in 2003.
After Army service during the Vietnam War, Cleveland moved to Warwick Village in Alexandria and, with Lawhorne's assistance, helped to start a Neighborhood Watch program in the late 1970s. 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.
Cleveland has served on several boards and commissions, 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, a program for at-risk youths.
"[Dunning] has put together a staff unlike any other staff, and I will maintain that," Cleveland said.
Lawhorne, 47, a Del Ray native, said his boyhood dream was to become a police officer. Over the years, he has worked as a patrol officer, a detective, a hostage negotiator and with youngsters, many of them troubled.
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 political campaign.
Lawhorne also has the endorsement of the local fire and police unions and the 80,000-member International Union of Police Associations.
"I have a very clear vision for the Sheriff's Office that I have articulated many times," Lawhorne said.
At a news conference outside the red caboose parked in front of the Mount Vernon Recreation center in Del Ray last week, Dunning, who ran unopposed in all but his first bid for sheriff, endorsed Cleveland as a candidate who would offer a "fresh look at the entire operation."
Cleveland would "bring an in-depth analysis of the city government" to the Sheriff's Office and the "kind of leadership this community deserves," Dunning said.
"He is someone with 30 years of law enforcement work but with also lots of government experience," said Dunning, a Democrat. He said he does not consider the sheriff a partisan post.
Dunning has said his decision not to seek reelection was one he and his wife, Nancy, made before she was slain in December 2003. The case remains unsolved, but Dunning said the stalled investigation was not a factor in his endorsement of the Republican candidate. Sengel, Alexandria's commonwealth's attorney who is running unopposed in Tuesday's race, attended the news conference and said he was surprised that Dunning looked to Cleveland's law enforcement experience in deciding to endorse him. Lawhorne has a "well-thought out and comprehensive plan" to improve the Sheriff's Office, Sengel said.
"There is no comparison," Sengel said. "Lawhorne has worked tirelessly as a senior detective in resolving some of the most difficult and complicated cases Alexandria has ever seen. By all accounts I have heard, the bulk of Cleveland's law enforcement experience consisted of guarding a door at the Capitol building. Surely the sheriff's department deserves better than that."
For more information about both candidates, visit their Web sites: www.clevelandforsheriff.com and www.lawhorneforsheriff.com.