LUMBERTON — Although Sheriff Ken Sealey has yet to say publicly if he will seek re-election to that office in 2018, there is a line forming of those who would like to take his seat.
Sealey told The Robesonian point blank last week that it’s still too early to predict what he will do.
“I definitely have not made up my mind if I will run again or not,” said Sealey, who was appointed to the position when former Sheriff Glenn Maynor resigned it in 2004, and then was elected to four-year terms in 2006, 2010 and 2014.
Several sources close to the sheriff have told The Robesonian he has said privately he will not run again.
At least four people with ample law enforcement experience have told The Robesonian they are testing the waters to see if they have enough support to wage a successful campaign. All are Democrats, and would have to first win a primary election before having the chance to move on to the November 2018 General Election and face-off against any Republican candidate who may step forward.
Those who appear serious in eventually waging a full-fledged campaign for the county’s chief law-enforcement position include: Burnis Wilkins, a Lumberton city councilman; Randy Graham, the internal affairs investigator for the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office; Lennis Watts, a former highway patrolman who once served as a Robeson County commissioner; and Ronnie Patterson, chief of police in Red Springs.
John McNeill, former chairman of the Robeson County Democratic Party and mayor of Red Springs, cited parts of the county where each potential candidate would run strong.
“But the real test is going to be which candidate can raise enough money to run a successful campaign,” McNeill said.
Only two of the potential candidates, Patterson and Watts, told The Robesonian that they are definitely going to be candidates for sheriff.
“I’m definitely planning on it,” said Patterson, who has led the Red Springs Police Department since 2010. “I feel I have done a good job for the citizens of Red Springs, and I feel I can do a good job for the county.”
Watts said he “absolutely” will be on the ballot come 2018.
“I hope the people will show some interest in the 2018 sheriff’s race,” he said. “I believe that those in the sheriff’s office should have the same quality of training and availability to other up-to-date resources as local police departments, but now that’s just not the case.”
Wilkins, currently a law enforcement instructor at Robeson Community College, and Graham, a former juvenile court counselor, both say they are exploring the possibility of running for sheriff, but have not made any official public statements declaring their candidacy. Both Wilkins and Graham have a strong presence on such social media outlets as Facebook, and have organized committees working to muster support for them in communities across the county.
Wilkins, however, said his immediate goal is to be re-elected to his Precinct 3 seat on the Lumberton City Council in 2017. He is currently serving his first four-year term on the council.
“I am exploring the opportunity of running for sheriff, but right now I am focusing my efforts on being re-elected to the City Council and continuing to serve the citizens of my district,” Wilkins said.
Graham has been actively campaigning for several months, but has stopped short of officially throwing his hat in the ring.
“I will be making an official announcement sometime in the near future,” he said.
Although still two years away, those familiar with campaigns say that candidates hoping to win elections need to start early to muster support for their candidacy among the county’s political elite and get their names out into the community early.
Philip Stephens, chairman of Robeson County’s Republican organization, said that while it has not always been the case, there will be Republicans coming forward to run for sheriff in 2018. Randy Hammonds, a former troop commander with the N.C. Highway Patrol, ran unsuccessfully as a Republican against Sealey in 2014.
Stephens pointed to recent election results in Robeson County showing that more voters are casting ballots for Republicans than ever before.
“Although we have not spoken with anyone officially, we will have a candidate for sheriff in 2018,” Stephens said. “It has been becoming easier each year for us to recruit candidates.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.