Richmond County Daily Journal
A crowd of more than 200 supporters celebrated the county’s historic choice of its first African-American sheriff-elect on Harrington Square in Rockingham Tuesday night.
James “Clem” Clemmons is set to take office next year and become the third Richmond County Sheriff in 60 years. The late-R.W. Goodman held the post for 44 years before turning it over to four-term Sheriff Dale Furr who didn’t seek re-election in 2010.
Clemmons’ Campaign Manager Ronald Tillman said combing the county to talk to potential voters became challenging as time wore on in the race.
“(The most difficult part) was just getting out to all the communities and hearing what the citizens had to say,” Tillman said. “In the end, it definitely paid off, and all of our hard work was paid off.”
A short distance away, Richmond County Sheriff’s Office Det. Lt. Jeff Millen also savored the moment of seeing his colleague get the chance to run the show at the department.
“We are very pleased and very happy (with the voters’ choice),” he summed up the mood of he and other department employees. “(Clemmons) is a good man who’s going to lead the department like the sheriff he’s following.”
During his own remarks, Clemmons said he was humbled by the election results, and promised to uphold the platforms of his candidacy - fairness, community policing and integrity at the department.
“I promise to continue to give of myself the way I have in the past,” Clemmons told those in attendance.
His path to the election was a bit improbable at points.
First, Clemmons faced three competitors in a Democratic primary, and many in the county assumed there would be a run-off between him and one of other candidates. Instead, Clemmons collected more than 40 percent of the vote, making a run-off unnecessary.
After the primary results were accepted by the county board of elections, fellow Democratic primary sheriff candidate Eddie Martin filed an election complaint, alleging Clemmons was unable to run due to the provisions of the federal Hatch Act.
Clemmons was then cleared to run by the Hatch Act Unit investigators, and got 62 percent of the general election vote to defeat Republican Doug Brown Tuesday by more than 20 percent.
Yet, Clemmons’ election is just one facet of a remake of law enforcement leadership in the county.
The other facet was the May primary victory of Reece Saunders over District Attorney Michael Parker. Saunders ran unopposed Tuesday for the office.
“I’m just pleased that the election process is over, and I’m looking forward to getting to work for the people on Jan. 1,” Saunders said Wednesday.
He said he spent most of election day in the courtroom, and looks forward to building his professional with Clemmons and the sheriff’s office.
“I’ve known him for as long as he’s been with the sheriff’s office, and I’ve always found him to be a straight-up fellow,” Saunders said. “You can take what he tells you to the bank, and I’m looking forward to working with him. I’m actually looking forward to working with all law enforcement here in Richmond County and in Anson and Stanly.”
Along with Clemmons, Saunders said he is also looking forward to working with the judiciary and court personnel in North Carolina Prosecutorial District 20A.
Also getting the nod in unopposed races Tuesday were Richmond County Clerk of Court Kathy Gainey and district court judges Scott Brewer and Bill Tucker.
Gainey was the top vote-getter in any county race after the dust settled Tuesday night, with nearly 10,000 votes.
“I’m so humbled by this many people thinking enough of me to vote for me, and I will continue to do the best I can to serve the people of Richmond County,” Gainey said of her victory.
In addition, she spoke to the additions of Clemmons and Saunders to the county’s law enforcement community in leadership roles.
“I feel like Richmond County is in for a lot of pleasant changes,” Gainey said, explaining many of the pieces remain in place despite the change in leadership. “Richmond County is fortunate to have two men with such a great willingness to be public servants.”
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at email@example.com.