Retiring Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake will run against incumbent Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden for the Democratic nomination for sheriff. The showdown will be decided during the state primary, Sept. 6.
Debra O’Malley, a spokesperson for Secretary of State William Galvin, confirmed the worst-kept secret on the Island Monday, that Blake is, indeed, a candidate for sheriff. “He has actually already filed his papers with us. He will be on the Democratic ballot for sheriff, assuming there are no objections or withdrawals filed,” O’Malley wrote in an email about Blake.
Blake announced in February that he would be retiring after 35 years in law enforcement as of June 30. On Monday, Blake told The Times the sheriff’s job is something he considered running for six years ago, but it wasn’t the right time. Now, with his tenure as police chief coming to a close, he saw an opportunity.
“The seed was planted then,” Blake said of when Sheriff Michael McCormack left office in 2016. “It wasn’t the right time then, it wasn’t the time in my life and my career. I didn’t understand what it took to run. This is something I always thought about as the next step in my career.”
The town of Oak Bluffs had Blake serve as director of public safety when the town was searching for a new fire chief. “ I got to see a different side — on the fire and EMS side — and what went into running those departments,” he said.
Ogden said he’s heard that Blake was considering a run, but had not heard that his paperwork was filed. “I only hope that his motivation is altruistic and not self-serving,” said Ogden, who was elected in November 2016. “I wish him all the luck in the world. It’s not easy to run for sheriff. I welcome the challenge, and think my record speaks for itself over the last six years, especially during the pandemic.”
Ogden understands his office has been criticized for the regional communications system, particularly in Edgartown, but he defended his department’s efforts to beef up the Island’s communications system. He said he secured $7 million from the state, which made his department the envy of others in the state.
When he took over, the system was failing. There were problems with the towers and the generators, he said.
“I hope the Island remembers I wasn’t obligated to develop or to maintain the system,” Ogden said. “No one was doing anything to accomplish a public safety system that was reliable. I’m proud of what we’ve done. It’s miraculous.”
Blake stopped short of criticizing Ogden specifically, but said anytime you introduce a new system, there will be hiccups. “Part of my goal would be to be attentive to the end users of the system, and keep that communication open,” Blake said. “I’ve been an end user for 35 years.”
Blake enters the race from a department that’s had some recent controversy after a department-issued firearm went missing and suddenly reappeared at the police station. An independent investigation led to the resignation of longtime Police Sgt. Michael Marchand, and also a recommendation by the investigator that the department upgrade its record-keeping for firearms.
Blake said he doesn’t think it will become a campaign issue, and if it does, he believes he handled the situation the best way possible. “There are members of the department that didn’t follow the procedure,” he said. “Thank God the weapon itself was never lost or stolen.”
As the department leader, it was his job to make sure that things didn’t fall through the cracks, and if they did, to deal with them. “The optics of it weren’t great,” Blake said. “As leader of the department, those who were responsible were held accountable. I certainly didn’t investigate. I thought we did the right thing by bringing someone from the outside.”
Blake has not yet filed any paperwork with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance. “I’m waiting for the select board to select my successor,” Blake said, noting he is being careful not to violate any rules.
Ogden, according to the state site, has $5,754 on hand in his campaign account.