Bert D. Dunn, a 12-year veteran of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, is backed by Democratic Party leaders.
His opponent in the Democratic primary for county sheriff is Richard E. Dobson Sr., who retired after 32 years with the department.
Dobson said he has the benefit of viewing county law enforcement through a prism of experience and maturity.
“I’ve been following the news, seeing how the department is shaping up, and I’ve been disillusioned at the leadership and the way many things have been going,” said Dobson, a Town of Wales resident.
“I want to redirect the resources of the department and reprioritize it to where it’s needed most. I’ve worked for six different sheriffs, both Republican and Democrat. I’ve seen programs that work and I know what programs are doomed to failure. I won’t make the same mistakes that I’ve seen made in the past,” he added.
Dunn, of Orchard Park, said he would like to pursue innovations that would lead to the Sheriff’s Office running more cost-effectively, though he also takes great pains not to disparage his current boss.
“I think he’s a very nice man,” Dunn said, regarding Howard.
“I’m not a disgruntled employee. I’m just very passionate about the agency and I want to make it a benchmark agency,” added Dunn, 43.
In addition to having an insider’s view of the Sheriff’s Office, Dunn said he has the added benefit of seeing the operation from a businessman’s perspective, as he is the president of Bert’s Bike & Fitness, a family-run business in Orchard Park, and is the holder of a master’s degree in business administration from Canisius College.
Dobson, 68, earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 1972, after attending night and day classes while working as a sheriff’s deputy.
“Mr. Dunn has his degree in business. He relies, according to our last debate, on his business acumen to make himself a better administrator. I don’t agree that police work and law enforcement is a business and it cannot be run like a business. Law enforcement is a public service,” said Dobson, who retired from the department 13 years ago.
The campaigns for both Democratic candidates have been marked by insider rivalries.
Soon after he announced his candidacy in April, Dunn was hit with accusations of party disloyalty following a text he wrote in which he said he was not a fan of either President Obama or Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and that Ronald Reagan was his favorite president. Dunn later said that county sheriff is not a political job.
“I’m not running to be a politician, and I’m not running for a job. I’ve already got a job. I want to be the guy who makes a difference,” Dunn said.
Dobson, who has been criticized for endorsement by a faction of the party that is hostile to current Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner, said he has sought to stay above the political fray.
“The Democratic party right now seems to be at war with itself. I’m not a part of that battle. I have no axe to grind with anyone. I came into this with one goal in mind and that is to be the next sheriff,” said Dobson.
The winner of the Democratic primary Tuesday will square off against incumbent Sheriff Timothy B. Howard, a Republican, in the Nov. 5 general election.