Andrew Dys

Chester sheriff race foreshadows wild 2016 election season

Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood, left, and former Chester Police Chief Andre Williams.
Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood, left, and former Chester Police Chief Andre Williams.

Election season in Chester County – a place where elections are never dull – formally kicked off Wednesday when former Chester Police Chief Andre Williams filed to run against incumbent Sheriff Alex Underwood.

Since both are Democrats, that sets up a hot race between now and the June 14 primaries. Williams seeks to be the second-ever black sheriff in Chester, following Underwood’s election in 2012.

After maintaining a cordial relationship for several years, the two men have not talked in months. Williams resigned as Chester police chief in 2015 to take his current position as head of security for the Chester County school district. That position was created after school officials dumped Underwood’s deputies as school resource officers in favor of private security. Underwood was outraged at the decision.

“I’m elated and I’m humbled,” Williams said after filing the paperwork to run for sheriff. “We need to take the focus off the position and put it back on the citizens.”

After Williams stepped down as chief in July, the police department left its quarters alongside the sheriff’s office in the Chester County Law Enforcement Building, citing a dispute between the two departments.

Underwood already has announced he will seek a second term, but he did not file on Wednesday’s first day of filing.

The former State Law Enforcement Division agent is also expected to face opposition from two other Democrats – former Sheriff Richard Smith, whom Underwood unseated in 2012, and retired Chester police officer Al Rainey.

The winner gets a four-year term and would be paid an annual salary of $59,000.

In other Chester County filings:

▪ Incumbent Clerk of Court Sue Carpenter, a Democrat in office more than a quarter-century, filed for re-election. She was the first to file at noon. Carpenter, 79, one of the deans of public office in South Carolina, was first elected in 1988 and only in 2012 had any opposition, when she easily defeated a challenger.

“I certainly would appreciate your (the public’s) vote,” Carpenter said after filing. “I would like to tell Chester County they have been very good to me.”

▪ Coroner Terry Tinker, a Democrat, filed for re-election. Tinker, 69, has been coroner since 2005. Under his leadership, he said, the county has built a morgue and a new coroner’s office, despite the fact that both he and his deputy hold part-time positions.

▪ Three Chester County Council seats are up for election. Incumbent Democrats Alex Oliphant and Joe Branham filed for re-election Wednesday. Bobby Compton, a newcomer, filed to run for the seat currently held by John Wayne Holcombe.

▪ County Treasurer Tommy Darby, a Democrat, filed for re-election.

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