Politics coming into play in Richmond County sheriff race

When a group of black police officers who had endorsed sheriff’s Capt. Scott Peebles as their candidate for Richmond County sheriff were forced to retract that endorsement by the organization they purported to represent, some saw it as an unfortunate mix-up.

Other saw it as dirty pool.

“I said it was a lie,” said sheriff’s Lt. John Ivey, a rival candidate. “That’s what it was.”

Whether a mix-up or something sinister, it’s a sign the sheriff’s race is heating up, candidates say.

“I believe that some camps are going to do what­ever is necessary to win,” Ivey said.

The day after the endorsement, Joseph Akers, the interim executive director of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, said the men who had endorsed Peebles were not members of the organization. Akers disavowed the endorsement and demanded a retraction.

“They said they were members,” Ivey said. “Had they been members, they would have known that NOBLE cannot make an endorsement.”

RUMORS OF A DIRTY BARGAIN

Ivey and others in Augusta’s black community decried the incident as the work of outsiders – most of the officers were with the Waynesboro, Ga., police department – who were inserting themselves into Augusta politics.

The officers, including Waynesboro Police Chief Alfonzo Williams, said it was an honest mistake. They said they were members of the Georgia chapter of NOBLE and were working to ensure that their membership status with the national organization was current.

Another candidate, School Public Safety Lt. Richard Roundtree, said he didn’t know the motive behind the endorsement, but he suspects it was to create the impression that Peebles was being embraced by the black law enforcement community.

“It adds to the perception that you are being embraced,” Roundtree said. “I think it was done to give the perception of that. There’s a lot of prominent Richmond County officers here. Have you seen anybody getting into this who can actually vote?”

Ivey suspects some deal was made to get the endorsement. He said one of the reasons that he got into the race is that Peebles told him personally that he was going to look outside the department for qualified blacks to fill higher positions on the sheriff’s force.

“He basically slapped me in the face when he told me that,” Ivey said.

Williams denied he was asked by Peebles or made offers by anyone from his campaign to make the endorsement.

Peebles said the whole thing was a series of unfortunate errors.

“I haven’t made an offer to anybody about anything,” he said. “I wish we had known from the beginning. We would not have (accepted) an endorsement from NOBLE.”

TRYING TO STAY POSITIVE

Peebles said when he got into the sheriff’s race, he wasn’t prepared for how quickly things would turn personal and ugly.

“It is an unfortunate part of politics that I wasn’t completely ready for,” he said. “In the beginning I would get so angry. I felt like I had to call people out. Some very negative and untrue things were said about me and my family.”

Now Peebles said he is at the point where he has stopped listening to rumors and is not interested in fighting back or settling scores.

“I just think there is enough negativity in Augusta as a whole. We’re divided enough already,” Peebles said. “We’re just trying to tell you why you want to vote for us. When people say things that aren’t true, we just are going to let it pass.”

Sheriff’s Lt. Robbie Silas said he’s trying to run a positive campaign, despite rumors about his disciplinary record. Silas said he has put that behind him.

“Sheriff (Ronnie) Strength put that to rest. He said it wasn’t true, and so it’s no longer an issue,” Silas said.

Silas said he’s not interested in attacking his opponents, but what his supporters do is their business. A few Silas supporters have made allegations about Peebles’ personal life.

Silas said he has nothing to do with them.

“If it is not the truth, then they don’t need to be putting it out there,” he said. “If they have some factual information, then I’m not going to stop somebody. I can’t control everybody that supports me.”

FINDING THE TRUTH

Silas said the best solution for these kinds of rumors is to have them vetted and exposed to public scrutiny, to see if there is anything to them.

“Why doesn’t someone go to the sheriff and ask him if this did happen? He’s not going to hide from any questions,” he said.

Peebles said he’s not responding to “blatant lies” and he’s not allowing his supporters to make those type of accusations against other candidates.

“If I have something to say as a candidate, I’m not going to have someone else say it for me,” he said.

But that is the way politics works, Ivey said. It’s all about power and who is in control.

“I think they feel it is slipping away, and they will do what it takes to get it back,” he said.

Ivey said that after his announcement in March he was faced with rumors that he wasn’t an actual candidate – that he had been persuaded to enter the race to split the black vote and give Peebles or Silas a better chance to win without a runoff.

“They may put up somebody to do that, but that wouldn’t be John Ivey,” he said. “I’ve lived through the struggle. I’ve seen it. I was there. I’m in the race to win it.”

He said some supporters have encouraged him to start slinging a little mud, too.

“There are others that will throw a rock and hide their hand,” he said. “If I throw one, I will say I did it.”

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