Democrat Robert E. Comes coasted to victory in Tuesday's race for county sheriff, trouncing incumbent Dominick J. Mele's write-in campaign to allow him to keep his job.
In the general election, Comes received 34,381 votes, or 74 percent.
There were 4,689 write-in votes, but how many of those Mele got will not be determined until this week.
Comes, 58, of Churchville, will assume the $52,000-a-year sheriff's job at the 260-member department on Dec. 3.
Following his victory, Comes reflected on the campaign and outlined some of his plans for the Sheriff's Department during an interview.
Q. Few election observers are surprised by your victory, but some didn't expect it to be by such a large margin. What do you credit for your victory?
A. I think it's my campaign committee. I think they worked hard and got to the people. I got to the people. I think the people wanted me in there and they voted for me.
Q. Mele based much of his write-in campaign on his opposition to the idea of establishing a county police force, which would take away many of the Sheriff's Department's duties. Do you think citizens voted for you because they want a police department?
A. I don't think so. I really don't think that was a big issue in this election. My only comment during the whole campaign was that if the next county executive saw fit to create a county police force, that I would cooperate to see that it was brought into being.
Back when (the county) did its study, there was a poll taken whether the citizens of Harford County would like a county police force or stay with the sheriff's office. I think it came out 50-50. There hasn't been a poll taken since then, so I don't know what the feeling is right now. I'm not saying that the Sheriff's Department can't efficiently be the county police force in this county. It has been.
Q. What will you be doing between now and December to prepare for the sheriff's job?
A. I can't make any changes in the department yet, but I will have to consider my reorganization between now and December and figure who is there and in what position they're in, and then make my decision on how I'm going to restructure the department -- not really restructure, but to reorganize.
Q. The last several sheriff races, including the primary, divided the department. How will you ease any bitterness with Mele's supporters within the department?
A. I don't think there's going to be too much bitterness. I will work with them and give them the same opportunities as anyone else because I understand they have their loyalty to certain people, to the present sheriff.
One thing that I campaigned on is that I'm going to take politics out of the office. That would be one thing I intend to do -- forget the past, who supported who, and get on to policing.
Q. Do you plan to reassign deputies to different duties? If so, how will you go about making those reassignments?
A. That's a possibility that some will be reassigned. I have to take a look at the department and the personnel and where they are assigned now.
Then I'll have to depend on my command staff, who have been working with the present deputies in the department, and get their suggestions on who can do the job best in which position.
Q. Will Bel Air Police Chief Thomas Broumel be offered a position at the Sheriff's Department?
A. He'll be considered, probably, but I don't know who is going to be offered what at this point.
Q. You have said that if elected you will formally recognize the 70-member sheriff deputies' union. What kind of role do you foresee the union having in the department?
A. I can meet and confer with the union and work out some of the problems they see that have existed in the department in the past. I'm going to try to work along with them and try to resolve these problems.
Q. What are your plans for more drug enforcement efforts, particularly on routes 1 and 40? How will you pursue this plan and when do you want it to start?
A. That's called a drug-interdiction program. I understand that several of the deputies have been trained in this.
What it really is is the uniform patrol deputies learning what to look for and how to observe drug traffickers going through the county on major highways, waterways and even by rail. It's something that could be put into use right away because some of them are already trained. And the ones that aren't trained I will have trained.
Q. You have said you want to start traffic accident investigations. How will you pursue this plan and when do you want it to start?
A. I want it to start as soon as possible, but it can't happen overnight. Most of the uniform deputies and the supervisors are already trained in accident investigations. It's a mandate when they go through the police academy.