CHESTER -- Richard Smith ousted Chester County Sheriff Robby Benson in Tuesday's Democratic primary, meaning the county will have a new sheriff for the first time in eight years.
Unofficial results showed Smith defeating Benson, a two-term incumbent, by nearly a 2-1 margin. He faces no Republican opposition in November.
"I'm just thankful," Smith said after all the precincts had been counted. "This was the Lord's will. ... I was just hoping for 50 percent plus one, but I'll take 2-1."
Smith's victory capped an intense campaign, during which he focused on a message of bringing community policing to the county and controlling the local drug problem with a solicitor-led task force.
For Smith, 40, the election means his first chance to enter public office. He has served as the Fort Lawn police chief for more than six years, and ran unsuccessfully against Benson in 2004.
When asked what was different with this campaign, Smith said, "being here," a reference to his deployment to Iraq during the middle of his last campaign.
"I'm 6,000 miles closer this time," said Smith, who retired from the Army National Guard last year.
A third sheriff's candidate, retired state trooper Paul Martin, garnered fewer than 200 votes.
The stakes in Chester County's race for sheriff arguably couldn't have been higher. The county is battling a drug war that rages between five neighborhood groups. In April, this violence prompted four shootings in three days, including a murder.
The county jail, which the sheriff manages, has failed state inspections for 17 consecutive years and will be shut down by state officials next year if it isn't brought up to code.
Several voters Tuesday mentioned the importance of the sheriff's race. Ursula Crosby, a preschool teacher who said she supported Smith, said she wanted a sheriff who was more responsive to the public.
"We need a change," she said.
When Smith was asked what he'll do in office first, he said, "Ask me in November. I still gotta job I gotta finish up in Fort Lawn."
Benson, who was elected in 2000, could not be reached for comment.
The sheriff serves a four-year term and is paid an annual salary of $56,010.66.
Meanwhile, in the race for the District 4 seat on the Chester County Council, John Wayne Holcombe defeated incumbent Tommy Martin. The district includes much of the western part of the county.
"It's been a long four months," Holcombe said of the campaign. "I'm glad it's over."
Holcombe, a 62-year-old former sheriff who lost that post to Benson, thanked those who supported him. He said he visited more than 70 percent of the district's voters during his campaign.
"That was the good part," he said. "It worked out well."
Martin, 55, served on the council for four years.
Members of the Chester County Council are paid $8,560 annually and serve four-year terms.
In the Chester County coroner's race, Betty Griffin, a registered nurse, lost her bid for the job to incumbent Terry Tinker.
"I'm just glad everybody in Chester County thought enough of me to give me another four years," Tinker said. "I appreciate all of my supporters."
Tinker has no Republican opposition in the November election.
Griffin served as deputy coroner for nearly eight years under the former coroner, Watson Wright. "I'm just trying to do something I feel very strongly about," Griffin previously told The Herald. "If the people don't want me to do it, that's fine."
Tinker was appointed to the coroner post in 2005, after Wright died. "It feels good to win an election, rather than having to lose someone to get a job," Tinker said.
During his three-year tenure, Tinker has handled 400 deaths, including naturals and fatalities resulting from homicides, suicides and car accidents. He also established a coroner's office and was allotted a county vehicle and gas for his deputy coroner, he said. Four deputy coroners acquired state certification, he said.
The coroner serves a four-year term and earns $27,310.91 annually.