Voters weigh in on public safety ahead of runoff election for Wake County sheriff

Samantha Kummerer Image
Monday, July 25, 2022
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The race for the democratic candidate for Wake County Sheriff continues this week.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The race for the democratic candidate for Wake County Sheriff continues this week.

Tuesday's runoff election comes after seven candidates initially ran for the spot back in May.

Now voters will choose between current Sheriff Gerald Baker and Willie Rowe as the Democratic candidate.

Rowe won 29% of the votes and Baker finished second, winning 24% of the votes during the initial election in May.

Wake County resident David Cooper said this week's election is important for him.

"It's always important. It always starts with the local government. My vote counts. You might think it doesn't but at the end of the day it does," Cooper said.

He has lived in the county for around three years and said while he hasn't had any negative safety issues, he thinks there could be room for improvement.

"Like safety-wise, I think it's been pretty good, but I think it could be a little bit better than it is," he said.

Fenton M. Jolly has lived in Wake County his whole life. He also agrees that the relationship with local law enforcement can continue to be improved.

"It's a work in progress and we all have to work together even in our community," he said.

Jolly said he is looking for a candidate who will be out in the community.

"You got a lot of people who sit behind a desk they're not out here every day. They're not really doing the work and they don't look at people as a whole, so if they are going to be working to understand the people and understand the people by name," Jolly said.

He said he believes this attitude starts with the leader.

Baker has served in the position since 2018. During his time in the office, he has received criticism for staffing issues and low morale.

"This office is doing very, very well over the last four years. There have been questions about morale. I happen to believe morale is better than it's ever been. That's nothing I've heard, I've been here. I know what I'm talking about. We're going to continue to work on all those things. Continue to make sure this office is serving Wake County," Baker said.

Baker said in 2018 he sought to restore integrity and accountability in the department. He said he believes he has made strides but making change takes time and further work is needed. Baker said he is most proud of the work he has done to restore integrity inside the office.

"Restoring that integrity because that's where it all begins. A lot of trust was lost. And I sat and watched for a number of years. So that was number one because once you do that, restore that integrity and accountability, being held accountable for who we are, what we do, our purpose here," Baker said.

He also said filling the around 100 open deputy positions will continue to be one of his main priorities if reelected.

"There are a lot of things that contribute to everyone being short staffed and you know last two or three years has taken a toll on our nation. A lot of people kind of lost interest for a number of reasons as it pertains to this field. So, we're actively recruiting. We're actively trying to show that you know, this profession is still noble," Baker said.

If re-elected, Baker said engaging and patrolling in communities will remain a priority.

"We're going to continue to make sure this county is safe. Fiscally, when you start talking about the budget, there were questions about that four years ago. Well, this has been fiscally sound for the last four years. Very proud about that," Baker also noted.

The Sheriff's Office is responsible for 1,000 employees and a $111 million budget.

Rowe is a veteran who worked within the Wake County Sheriff's Office for more than two decades. He also said he has been connected with the county and working to tackle homelessness, at-risk youth, and affordable housing.

"I have a passion for public safety. I believe people live life to the fullest, but they feel safe when they have the opportunity space all the time has to offer. So, I want to offer my leadership skills, my experience, my community relationships, work with all stakeholders to create a safe community and create opportunities for successful outcomes," Rowe said.

He also said staffing needs to increase along with increasing deputies' presence in the community.

"It's a challenge nationwide. But again, when you create better working conditions, when you have improved morale, and make life better for everybody, you create opportunities for people to have a career development plan so they can develop and serve to the fullest," Rowe said.

Rowe also said enforcing laws and better educating people on responsible gun ownership is important.

"We just have to create an environment where people are safe. People have an opportunity to live, to develop their skills and so that people do not feel like they live in the dead-end world have to resort to crime as a means of survival or acceptance," Rowe said.

Around 8,300 voters have already cast an early ballot, according to the Wake County Board of Elections.

Only around 20% of registered voters in Wake County cast a ballot during the initial election in May.

Wake County residents are only eligible to vote in Tuesday's election if they are registered as a Democrat. Unaffiliated voters can cast a ballot Tuesday if they did not vote in the May Primaries, did not vote on the Republican ballot in May, or did not vote on the nonpartisan ballot in May.

Tuesday's winner will face Republican Donnie Harrison in November.

"Your vote counts, you matter. Your safety matters. So please turn out," Rowe said.