The race for Lexington County’s new sheriff moves to the starting line Friday, with four challengers ready to go.
Candidates begin filing then for the post to succeed James Metts, a once-dominant figure in county politics whose career ended in dishonor. Filing closes Jan. 12.
Metts stepped down in mid-December after 42 years in office before pleading guilty to a federal felony of conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants by interfering with their handling at the county jail he formerly oversaw.
Four challengers already are known – Richland County Deputy Justin Britt, former Columbia Police Officer Jim Crawford, Assistant Lexington Police Chief Jay Koon and West Columbia Police Chief Dennis Tyndall.
Crawford is running as an independent while the others are Republicans.
All started campaigning unofficially months ago, preparing for a race expected when the federal probe that led to Metts’ downfall became known.
Interim Sheriff Lewis McCarty – a former top aide to Metts who came out of retirement – isn’t seeking to remain as the top lawman in the steadily growing county.
“It’s as wide open as any race I’ve ever seen,” said political consultant R.J. Shealy, who is not affiliated with any candidate in the match. “There are lots of good candidates, but all unknown countywide. And others unknown could get in and shake up the field.”
The next sheriff likely will take charge in late April, serving through the end of 2016.
Political leaders say the person elected will need to make an imprint quickly to ward off challengers in the next round of voting in 18 months.
In the upcoming vote, a primary election is March 3, followed by a runoff two weeks later if needed.
Those are followed by the final vote April 21, an election that promises competition in the heavily Republican county, since Crawford is running as an independent.