Race for Dukes County sheriff begins to take shape

The entrance to the Dukes County Jail in Edgartown. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

The race to replace Dukes County Sheriff Michael McCormack is beginning to shape up. Two men, both experienced jailers, have announced they are candidates, and a retired state trooper and former challenger is weighing his options.

Marc Rivers of Oak Bluffs, a retired corrections officer, and Robert Ogden of West Tisbury have filed to be on the ballot on November 8. Both men are running as Democrats and will face off in the state primary on September 8.

Former challenger Neal Maciel of Tisbury confirmed he has been approached about running and is weighing his options but said he has not made a decision about whether he will throw his name into the ring.

A three-way race in 2010 saw Mr. Maciel, the former commander of the Island’s state police barracks, capture 3,261 votes to 4,529 votes for Sheriff McCormack and 417 votes for retired Oak Bluffs police officer Warren Gosson. The deadline to file nomination papers in the 2016 race is May 3.

The sheriff is elected by popular vote, to serve a term of six years. The salary for the job, set by state law, is $119,771.

In a telephone conversation Friday, Mr. Rivers, 53, said he retired in 2014 from the sheriff’s department following an injury after 13 years on the job. He is the recreation director for the town of Oak Bluffs and a school bus driver.

Mr. Rivers said he decided to run because he wants to give back to the community, and at this point in his life, he said he has the time to devote to that. He said his experience in the department left him with the view that there is a need for change. “I realized that the only way to make changes is that you need to be at the top,” he said. “You can’t make it at the bottom or the middle, you need to be at the top and filter it down among the ranks. That’s how things change.”

Robert “Bob” Ogden of West Tisbury has worked in the sheriff’s department for 26 years. He has directed the DARE program, which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, for 22 years and is well known by Island students as “Deputy Bob.”

In a telephone conversation with The Times, Mr. Ogden, 49, said his interest in running for sheriff is a natural progression in his career. Mr. Ogden said he has the highest respect for Sheriff McCormack and the mission statement under which the department and its employees have operated: integrity, respect, and professionalism.

“I see what the sheriff has put in place; he’s laid the groundwork for so many great things that are on the verge of happening and I believe I can bring them forward into the next phase in all areas,” he said.

Mr. Ogden cited accomplishments that include reentry programs for those who have served their sentences, computer-aided dispatching, digital photo data storage systems, and alternatives to incarceration through intermediate sanction programs. “All these things have come to fruition and the next sheriff needs to be someone who can bring these programs forward into the next decade,” he said.

Mr. McCormack said he will be supporting Mr. Ogden in his bid for the top spot.  On Feb. 18 Mr. McCormack named him special sheriff — making Mr. Ogden the number two man in the department and Mr. McCormack’s immediate replacement should he be unable to complete his term.

Mr. McCormack began working in the county jail as a young man. He was first elected in November 1998 following the retirement of longtime sheriff Christopher S. “Huck” Look Jr. In a telephone conversation, Sheriff McCormack, 68, said he loves his job, but after 42 years it is time.

The Dukes County sheriff’s department is responsible for the county jail, house of correction, civil process, and the Island communications center, which handles all emergency 911 calls and public safety communications and fulfills a variety of other programs and duties.

The current jail/house of correction is located on Upper Main Street in Edgartown. It was originally built in 1873 and provides secure lockup facilities for all six Island towns.

The Dukes County Jail is for inmates awaiting court hearings or trial, and in some cases, those who have been sentenced to jail. The House of Correction is for people sentenced to a term of incarceration of less than two and a half years. Longer sentences must be served in a state prison such as Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI) Walpole or MCI Concord.

Prior to 2010 the sheriff’s department was a hybrid organization that operated as a division of county government but was not subject to county control, and received funding from a complicated mix of state and county sources. The sheriff’s department budget is now under the direct control of the state, and employees are state workers.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the sheriff and his deputies have no arrest powers. Under certain circumstances they may arrest an individual.

The sheriff and his deputies have no arrest powers.