The race for New Hanover County’s next sheriff features not one but two candidates running for reelection.
Sheriff Ed McMahon is running for reelection against his predecessor, Sid Causey, who endorsed McMahon as his replacement after retiring in 2009.
“I love this county [and] I hate to see it in the shape it is in now. It’s poor, weak leadership in the sheriff’s office,” Causey said during an April 7 phone interview.
One problem Causey observed was the elimination of a gang task force funded by a grant the county received one year before his retirement.
“Doing research, I found out the unit had been disbanded and here we are. Gang this, gang that, gang shootings, gang murders,” Causey said.
He said he would reinstate the program if elected.
Causey said reports that most deputies had not received a raise since he left office also disturbed him, so he requested payroll from the last four and one-half years.
“I found out that some of [McMahon’s] staff, particularly his friends, were getting large, large raises,” Causey said.
Causey is worried that many deputies will leave the sheriff’s office. He said training replacements would cost the county millions of dollars.
McMahon said it is hard to not take Causey’s decision to run against him personally.
“He selected me to senior staff, to be the next sheriff. He stood beside me. … Then all of a sudden, I’m not the one and it was a big mistake,” McMahon said during an April 7 phone interview.
McMahon noted the sheriff’s constitutional duty to protect the unincorporated areas of the county, where he said violent crime decreased 16.9 percent since 2009.
He recognized the upswing in crime within city limits and said the sheriff’s office works with the Wilmington Police Department to control it.
“We started the housing unit task force, where we are in areas partnered with city officers, building relationships and building trust in communities where we see high violence,” McMahon said.
McMahon said budget restrictions have limited his administration.
“I have to hold exactly level although we’re doing more, the cost of living is up, expenses are up. That’s why the volunteer program has been so good,” he said.
McMahon created the volunteer program in 2010. Citizens are informed about sheriff’s office operations during a 10-week program. At the end of the program, the citizens are able to volunteer in the office.
Republican candidate Marc Benson ran against Causey and McMahon in the past.
A private investigator and host of Blue Line Radio, Benson said he was not concerned with other candidates and their platforms.
“We’ve got two sheriffs and a defense attorney running. If there’s a big problem, why haven’t they been able to fix it before now?” Benson asked during an April 4 interview.
Benson said zero tolerance is needed in the sheriff’s office. He listed a handful of local criminals who tout a string of convictions yet end up back on the street.
“I don’t want to overload the court system, the jails. … But crime costs more than incarceration any day of the week,” Benson said.
Uniformed presence in county schools is another top concern for Benson.
“We have to have the best representation of our department in schools. They have to be shining examples of adult authoritative members,” Benson said.
Jason Vaughn, Benson’s Republican opponent in May, also listed school resource officers as a top priority — he served as one in New Hanover and Ashley high schools before pursuing a career in law.
“Having a law enforcement presence in and around the schools, children feel safe and build repertoire with law enforcement at a young age,” Vaughn said during an April 4 phone interview.
Vaughn supports strong relationships with the community in schools and other community organizations in high-crime areas to help the sheriff’s office counteract violence.
Like Causey, Vaughn stressed the need for a strong leader in the sheriff’s office.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for the county to pick their own sheriff, to do research and find out who is best suited for the position,” Vaughn said.