It’s been years since any candidate for office roused the reaction that hit me Tuesday afternoon when I saw Doug Alexander announce his campaign for sheriff.
Doug, pastor at the New Church Without Walls, and an unquestionable community leader, automatically brings a facet to the sheriff’s race that we all deserve.
This is the sheriff’s race we were promised, but not delivered, four years ago when Mike Prendergast easily won re-election.
Might not be such a cakewalk this year, Sheriff.
Let’s break it down.
No one likes this reminder, but Mike Prendergast was first elected sheriff in 2016 after front-runner Phil Royal died while participating in the Key Training Center Run for the Money from Tallahassee.
Royal had tremendous community support, the most I’ve ever seen of any candidate in the 30-plus years of doing this. Ballot qualifying had already passed, so our choices were Prendergast and two others.
Prendergast won, but he hasn’t exactly endeared himself to the community. All the grumbling suggested there’d be a superstar opponent in the 2020 race; that didn’t happen, and Prendergast sailed to a second term.
That makes him solidly entrenched in the job.
The safest elected position in Florida is the constitutional officer. We have six — Supervisor of Elections, Superintendent of Schools, Tax Collector, Clerk of Court, Property Appraiser, and Sheriff.
Unlike the County Commission or School Board, constitutional officers do not set public policy. They are like corporate bosses. They have full-time jobs to oversee the office.
And it’s virtually impossible to unseat one. Voters who won’t think twice about tossing incumbent county commissioners for newbies with no experience will take the opposite tact on the sheriff and the other constitutional officers.
Basically, there are just two ways for this sheriff to lose:
And that’s what we have here.
Is there any room in this county that Doug Alexander walks into, and someone says, “Who’s that guy?”
(I recall writing a Chronicle story 25 years ago when Doug was the sheriff’s school resource officer at Citrus High School. Everyone looked up to him. The headline: Big man on campus.)
We had heard this Doug Alexander-for-sheriff rumor. I asked Doug about it several weeks ago, and he kind of brushed it off with the typical, “Now Mike, what trouble are you looking for this time?”
It’s a tough call running for office. Doug oversees a church that is well known for its service to the community, particularly people in need and the disenfranchised. He has a wonderful family. Politics isn’t often fun, and how will good-natured Doug react the first time one of his opponents pokes him in the rib?
This is no slight to either Calvin Adams Jr. or Dave Vincent, but Doug's name brings instant relevance to the sheriff’s race.
One of Vincent’s supporters texted me aghast with the news. From her view, the only way to defeat Prendergast is with fewer opponents, not more.
She has a point. In a Republican primary with four candidates, the incumbent doesn’t even need to break 50% to win.
If the fourth candidate was just another ex-cop, another politician, or someone else known to make noise, that would be one thing.
Now, before anyone thinks I’ll be hosting Doug Alexander fundraisers at the New Just Wright Citrus World Headquarters on the shores of Big Lake Henderson, let me assure you that will NOT happen. I neither publicly support nor oppose any candidate.
(Actually, that’s not true. I probably wouldn’t endorse anyone, but some people just should never hold any elected office. We’ll make those cases obvious.)
Alexander is already way behind. Prendergast has $65,000 in campaign contributions, much of it in the form of $1,000 donations from Citrus County’s most prominent businesses. Vincent and Adams combined don’t have half that, but both have been campaigning for months and each is picking up steam.
I spoke briefly late Tuesday afternoon with Doug. He said he’ll know in the coming months whether he really has the support to unseat Prendergast.
“I just wanted to file, and see what happens after that,” he said.
Well, we’re early, and anything can happen. I don’t pick August winners in February, and we have plenty of time to see if he's really sheriff material.
Welcome to the campaign, Pastor Doug.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.