The already hotly contested race for Cecil County Sheriff in the 2010 election has ramped up a notch with the candidacy filing of Robert ( Skip ) DeWitt, a current Deputy and the son of a very popular former Sheriff, to challenge fellow Democrat Chris Sutton in the primary election this year. Skip DeWitt’s filing late Friday afternoon took Democratic Party members by surprise, after his previous declaration that he would not run this year.
DeWitt, 47, a resident of Chesapeake City, filed his candidacy papers at the local Elkton office of the state Board of Elections late Friday afternoon, according to a Board spokeswoman. In Monday interviews with The Cecil Times, DeWitt confirmed his filing as a candidate and outlined his biography. He said he has been a Cecil County Deputy for 19 years and currently holds the rank of Deputy First Class, assigned to the support services unit, handling evictions and court services. He also previously served for 10 years in the patrol division and also worked in criminal investigations, he said, including a brief stint working with the drug task force.
Sutton has a higher rank– Corporal– and supervisory experience, serving as road patrol supervisor.
DeWitt’s sudden filing took many local Democrats by surprise, after he initially told the county’s Democratic committee this winter that he would file but then a month later he recanted and said he would not enter the primary against Sutton. Sutton filed as a candidate last summer and was the unsucessful Democratic nominee in 2006 against incumbent Republican Sheriff Barry Janney, Sr. DeWitt also acknowledged in the interview that he had posted on an Internet website that he would not run this year and would remain “neutral” in the 2010 election.
What changed? DeWitt said that initially it appeared that fellow Democrats were “satisfied” with Sutton’s candidacy. But he said that as he spoke with many Cecil County residents, they were “not satisfied with these candidates– and I was not satisfied.”
DeWitt said he believes his greatest strength as a candidate, and as Sheriff, would be that he is “easy to talk to” and that he would be “the best communicator” with county residents. (So far, he has not established a website or social media presence on sites such as Twitter.) DeWitt also said that he is dedicated to the Sheriff’s position, it would be his “life” and he is “in it for the long haul” for many years to come.
Asked about his differences with fellow Democrat Sutton, DeWitt emphasized that he was a “better communicator” and would hold town hall-type meetings to discuss crime problems with local residents. Asked about his differences with incumbent Republican Janney, DeWitt initially paused and said his top priority was the party primary. When pressed, he added that he has communication skills with departmental employees and would “stand by them” on salary and benefit issues.
Janney has been criticized by many deputies for joining with the county Commissioners in opposing binding arbritration in salary and other disputes between the county and Deputies. After a legislative battle in Annapolis, which pitted several Republican members of the state delegation against the County Commissioners, the Commissioners largely prevailed on a bill that provides collective bargaining but non-binding mediation for Sheriff’s Department employees.
The sudden filing by DeWitt as a Democratic candidate for Sheriff has many Deputies and Democrats scratching their heads–and wondering whether his step is really a distraction to give Sutton a hard time in the Democratic primary. Janney is already facing two Republican primary opponents–Dan Slater, a current Deputy, and Al Michael, a former state trooper and ousted police chief of Rising Sun. Janney, who announced his re-election bid several months ago, has had a so far non-existent campaign but will have to pay attention to and spend campaign funds on a crowded primary. With a previously clear field in the primary, Sutton had an advantage to focus on the November general election, presumably running against Janney.
But with Skip DeWitt’s entry into the Democratic primary, Sutton will have a credible challenger. Many older voters remember Jack DeWitt, his father who served as Sheriff from 1974-1990 and was very popular with voters.
Asked for comment upon Skip DeWitt’s filing, Sutton told The Cecil Times: “At least there’s another deputy that realizes that the current Sheriff isn’t doing a good job.”