Ending weeks of speculation, Sheriff Ronnie Strength finally did what many said he would do – endorse Capt. Scott Peebles as his pick for the next Richmond County sheriff.
The sheriff made it official in a brief statement, released by e-mail Wednesday afternoon.
“Several months back I made the decision not to endorse any candidate for the Office of Sheriff in the primary election,” the statement said. “I had close ties to three candidates in the election and did not think it fair to take a position. I stated that I would endorse someone after the primary in July. Today, I announce that I am endorsing Scott Peebles in the Democratic Party run off for Sheriff against Richard Roundtree.”
Peebles said the endorsement was both a personal honor and a boost to his campaign.
“As an individual, it is important to me because I love and respect the sheriff, and I’m honored to have it,” Peebles said. “But the sheriff also carries a lot of weight, and I’m sure we will win some votes because of that, which means a lot, too.”
Six candidates qualified to run for sheriff in March, but three of those men had reasons to expect Strength’s support: his longtime friend, Republican Freddie Sanders; his brother-in-law, Lt. Robbie Silas; and Peebles, an officer he mentored up through the ranks. Strength donated $1,000 to each of their campaigns.
Tuesday’s primary narrowed the field of candidates from six to three, with Sanders advancing to the general election and two Democrats – Peebles and schools Public Safety Lt. Richard Roundtree headed for an Aug. 21 runoff.
Peebles said his team would be working overtime the next three weeks to deliver a win in that runoff election.
“We are just trying to back up, get organized and put another plan in motion,” he said.
Roundtree said he will spend the coming weeks working to reach voters who didn’t show up at the polls.
“We are going to target those areas that didn’t come out at all,” he said. “We know that a large number of people who participated in the Democratic primary were Republican, so there is a large number out there that didn’t participate.”
Roundtree downplayed the sheriff’s announcement, saying he expected it to have little effect on the runoff results.
“I think (the effect) is minimal,” he said, explaining that it only confirmed what most people expected all along. “I don’t think that announcement was a shock to anybody; it was mere formality.”
In the days before Tuesday’s election, speculation about who the sheriff was supporting intensified, and the campaign heated up with the diffferent camps trading allegations.
Strength confirmed that the campaign had also raised tensions within his department, with different factions backing certain candidates. He said Wednesday he hoped Tuesday’s vote had put most of that to rest.
Strength said he had a staff meeting early today in which he instructed his staff to put aside their differences and return to work as normal.
“With six candidates, this is the first time we’ve had anything like this in the sheriff’s department,” Strength said. “People get behind their candidates and get very passionate about that,
especially about their sheriff.”
He expects that tension to subside now that two other candidates and sheriff’s employees – Silas and Lt. John Ivey – were eliminated from contention.
“You will see all that die down to almost nothing, probably by the end of the day,” he said.