Cunningham in Harford Sheriff Race

September 08, 1994

Electing a sheriff is only half the task facing Harford voters this fall. They must also decide whether law enforcement duties should stay with that office or shift to a county police force under an appointed chief; a charter amendment question on that issue will be on the November ballot.

Incumbent Robert E. Comes and three challengers are vying for the Democratic nomination in Tuesday's primary. Joseph Meadows, an assistant state's attorney, is unopposed in the Republican primary.

The move to remove the sheriff's police responsibilities resulted from the 1992 suspicious death of inmate William Ford in the detention center, which is also under the sheriff. The county executive settled a potential lawsuit by the man's family, then pushed for transfer of jail and police oversight from the sheriff's office. The County Council referred only the police agency question to referendum.

All four Democratic candidates support keeping police duties in the sheriff's office -- a position with which we disagree.

Three of these hopefuls are longtime colleagues, sometime rivals, in the sheriff's office. They represent the continued failings and the political revolving door of the office over the past decade.

Dominick J. Mele served an undistinguished term from 1986-90, before losing a primary and then a write-in general election to Mr. Comes.

Dale Zepp, a 33-year veteran, was warden of the jail during the inmate death controversy and responsible for jail policies and practice. He's suing the county for allegedly forcing him to retire, yet asking voters to put him back on the public payroll.

Mr. Comes mishandled the jail death, condoning the faulty initial investigation and promptly declaring the death a suicide. He refused to answer questions about it for nearly two years, while criticizing the legal settlement. He's made some positive changes, such as implementing a central booking center to expedite arrest processing and a volunteer corps to answer routine phone calls, but he is a weak manager and a poor communicator.

George W. Cunningham, a Baltimore City sheriff's deputy for 14 years, is an outsider with experience and knowledge of Harford County. He ran for Howard County sheriff in 1990 while living there briefly. He gets our qualified endorsement as a chance to break from the past.

In the Democratic primary for register of wills, we favor incumbent Harry L.W. Hopkins on his 9-year record over challenger Lou Ann Hewitt.

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