If the Clark County sheriff’s race were an old-fashioned pistol duel, two of the leading candidates would be ably supported by formidable seconds.
On one side there’s former Sheriff Bill Young, who is only too happy to promote the many skills that Metro Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo would bring to the county’s top law enforcement position. Lombardo himself is just now starting to make the rounds in the media.
A few political paces away is former Sheriff Jerry Keller, who shouts his support for recently retired Capt. Larry Burns. Well-respected inside the department, former SWAT team leader Burns isn’t a household name in the press. Keller clearly plans to help change that.
There are other announced candidates, to be sure, but none will enjoy such enthusiastic advocacy from retired sheriffs. In the many years I’ve followed the department, I’ve never seen such vigorous support by former holders of the office.
Keller, who served three terms, admits he has never been this politically active. But he says he picked an appropriate time to step up, and is backing the best candidate for a difficult job.
“Certainly Larry’s integrity is unquestioned,” Keller says. “His moral compass is absolutely true. His leadership is unquestioned if you look at what he’s done over an almost 30-year career.”
For Young, Lombardo offers not only integrity and leadership, but also superior administrative experience and more formal education.
“Joe’s quality skill set and work ethic make him the person I believe should be sheriff,” Young says, reeling off a list of Lombardo’s credits, which include active-duty military service, attendance at the FBI Academy, and a master’s degree in crisis and emergency management.
For Young, Lombardo is a police administrator who is experienced in the intricacies of operating a department with a half-billion-dollar budget.
For Keller, Burns is a leader who not only will rally rank-and-file officers, but will bring compassion and a community policing philosophy to the duty.
Call it speculation from the firing line, but the presence of Young and Keller in advocacy roles appears a clear indication this race will be competitive.
Of course, Lombardo and Burns aren’t the only declared candidates. Among others in the lineup, former Assistant Sheriff Ted Moody made the most commotion and stunned members of his own department when he spoke out publicly against Sheriff Doug Gillespie’s decision to overrule Metro’s Citizens Use of Force Review Board. Moody made headlines and attracted attention to his upstart candidacy, but also telegraphed his political intentions with what smacked to some of choreographed outrage.
If Moody had hoped for even a Hallmark card’s worth of cheer from former sheriffs Keller and Young, he’ll likely wait a long time. Given an opportunity to comment, Keller declined without mentioning Moody’s name. Young didn’t mind referring to him, but didn’t exactly issue a thumb’s-up. It was more like a thumb in the eye.
“Moody doesn’t have any credibility with me, whatsoever,” Young says.
Moody will probably leave that out of his campaign material.
Hearty endorsements such as those offered by Keller and Young would generally surface later in the campaign. The fact the former sheriffs have stepped out early could be a sign of the competition to come. And that could be good for all of us.
The last thing this community needs is a coronation of the county’s top cop. Although it might be asking too much given the slippery state of affairs in local politics, in theory a tightly contested sheriff’s race could spotlight a number of important issues ranging from police pay-and-benefit packages to the department’s use-of-force policy and its controversial fatal shooting history.
For the most part, Keller and Young are remaining positive. Then again, it’s only the middle of December.
Something tells me you won’t have to wait much longer before the candidates and their seconds take aim in earnest.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.