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2014-01-22 / News

Leonard wins Republican nomination for county sheriff

By Jim McConnell

Chesterfield’s Republicans have spoken, and Karl Leonard is their choice to run for county sheriff in a March 18 special election.

Leonard, currently the county’s undersheriff, was nominated in a special countywide convention Monday night at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Midlothian. In a surprise twist, Leonard’s expected challenger for the nomination, Richmond Sheriff’s Maj. Jerry Baldwin, withdrew his name from consideration just prior to the vote.

Leonard, who will take over the top spot in the county sheriff’s office on an interim basis when Sheriff Dennis Proffitt’s retirement becomes official Feb. 1, will run in March for the right to serve out the nearly two years remaining on Proffitt’s current term.

“It’s important that the Republican Party has a voice at the ballot box,” said Donald Williams, chairman of the Chesterfield Republican Committee, “and getting the Republican nomination is very important for our candidate.”

Leonard is the only person guaranteed to be on the sheriff’s ballot for the special election. It was unclear as of press time Monday night whether any independent candidates had garnered the 125 signatures required by the country registrar to get on the ballot. (Those nominated by political party aren’t required to obtain signatures.)

In an email Monday, an official with the Chesterfield Democratic Committee told the Observer that the party “had not endorsed a candidate at this time.” The filing deadline for candidates was 5 p.m. Tuesday.

That leaves Leonard, who spent 30 years in the Chesterfield Police Department, rising through the ranks to become commander of the uniform operations bureau before retiring last year and going to work for Proffitt.

Leonard was promoted to undersheriff, the No. 2 position in the sheriff’s office, in November.

Proffitt announced his intention to retire in December and endorsed Leonard as his replacement, calling him “the right man for the job.”

Proffitt also expressed hope that his recommendation would carry weight with voters when it came time for Leonard to run.

“After 43 years, people begin to trust you. They know I wouldn’t leave this office in a bad situation,” he said.

Not everyone was satisfied with Proffitt’s succession plan, though.

Several leading local Republicans, sources told the Observer, were frustrated by the timing of Proffitt’s retirement announcement because it made it difficult for anyone other than Leonard to organize a campaign apparatus by the Jan. 21 filing deadline.

One of the county’s most influential Republicans – state Sen. Steve Martin – already had long-standing issues with Proffitt’s leadership.

According to an August 2007 Observer story, Martin wrote a letter to supporters just prior to that year’s Republican sheriff primary, alleging that both Proffitt and former Sheriff Clarence Williams had mismanaged the sheriff’s office.

In the letter, Martin claimed that three majors and several captains and lieutenants had left the department in recent years “over concerns for the kinds of things they were being exposed to and asked to do.”

Martin backed former Chesterfield Sheriff’s Maj. Garland Stafford in the 2007 Republican primary, but Proffitt defeated both Stafford and Robert Poland Jr.

Proffitt went on to win the general election in November 2007 and has served as sheriff ever since.

Early last week, the Observer learned that Baldwin intended to challenge Proffitt’s handpicked successor at a countywide Republican convention.

The Chesterfield Republican Committee voted last week to hold the convention Monday night, which would make it possible for the committee to certify its candidate with the county registrar’s office by the Jan. 21 deadline.

Martin made multiple robocalls last week inviting Republicans to come to the convention and join him and Delegate Roxann Robinson (R-27th) in supporting Baldwin’s candidacy.

Baldwin, a Midlothian resident, also sent out an email last week seeking support from fellow Republicans at the convention.

Baldwin, who serves as public information director and chief of special operations for the Richmond Sheriff’s Office, said in the email that he is “particularly proud of my efforts to consistently balance annual budgets and increase taxpayer savings.” Baldwin didn’t respond to a request from the Observer seeking comment.

In the email, Baldwin also noted that prior to joining the command staff of Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody he held retail management positions where he was responsible for managing multimillion-dollar budgets and hundreds of employees.

An email Proffitt sent to Republican supporters last week, however, cast Baldwin’s qualifications in a decidedly less flattering light.

In the email, a copy of which was obtained by the Observer, Proffitt claimed that Baldwin “has no experience, he managed a Rent-a- Center and then got an appointment and went to work for the City of Richmond Sheriff’s Office.”

Proffitt’s email also claimed that Baldwin “has never had a command and never served in the rank and file.”

“How insulting this is to me and the hardworking members of this department to think you could never serve the citizens and just walk in at the top position,” Proffitt added, before asking supporters to attend Monday’s Republican convention and vote for Leonard.

Many top county Republicans – including county supervisors Steve Elswick, Dorothy Jaeckle and Art Warren – backed Leonard’s candidacy last week.

Leonard also received endorsements from the local Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 47 and four members of the Chesterfield Republican Executive Committee: Jack Wilson, Daniel Smith, Cliff Bickford and Sherman Litton.

In the end, Baldwin decided not to challenge Leonard. At Monday night’s convention, just before he was scheduled to address the delegates and ask for their support, Baldwin instead moved to nominate Leonard.

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