After narrowly falling to Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr in last month's Democratic Primary, former sheriff's lieutenant Pam Brown is throwing her support behind Republican challenger Mark LaJoye in an effort to unseat Darr when voters return to the polls this fall.
The campaigns planned to meet Wednesday evening to discuss advertising and strategy for the next two months, and to determine whether Brown would be eligible to serve as LaJoye's chief deputy should he win the Nov. 6 General Election.
In a telephone interview, LaJoye said he has placed Brown on a short list of four candidates for the chief deputy position, but added the campaigns still need to verify Brown's discrimination settlement with the city would not preclude her re-employment. Brown retired from the Sheriff's Office last year after settling a claim for more than $26,000 plus benefits.
"I don't believe anything would prevent the winning candidate from making their choice for who they want in that position or any other position," said Mark Shelnutt, Brown's attorney.
City Attorney Clifton C. Fay, however, said Brown would violate the terms of her settlement agreement if she were to accept a position in the Sheriff's Office.
In merging the campaigns, LaJoye is seeking to harness the unexpectedly robust support Brown generated across the city last month despite raising about a third of what Darr saw in campaign contributions. LaJoye also is talking with Brown about appearing together in advertisements.
"A lot of my supporters are willing to support whoever I support," said Brown, who won about 49.8 percent of the primary vote and lost to Darr by just 68 votes. "They feel that a change is needed in the Sheriff's Office, and that was what I was going to do.
"I don't have any problem appearing with (LaJoye) on a billboard or TV ad because I'm definitely not supporting John Darr," Brown added.
Darr couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday evening.
LaJoye said his cooperation with Brown also amounts to an effort to strip partisan politics from the race and to appeal to Democrats and independents who might otherwise vote against him because of the "R" next to his name. He said he's confident he could win the race without Brown, but said her supporters would provide "a good buffer" that will avert the recount seen in last month's election.
"We're going to win it anyway," said LaJoye, a former Columbus police officer who lost a write-in campaign for sheriff in 2008. "We didn't necessarily need her help."
Brown weighed a formal challenge to last month's results, citing the shifting tallies and what she says were apparent irregularities in absentee voting. But her campaign appears to have pivoted away from any legal action for the time being.
"We've reviewed our options," Shelnutt said, "and at this point there's no plan to pursue any other avenues."
LaJoye and Brown offered differing versions of their early discussions concerning the chief deputy job. For her part, Brown said she had been asked to be LaJoye's chief deputy and that she was "about 90 percent" certain she would accept the offer.
"I feel like him and me have a lot in common," Brown said. "He knows I know the Sheriff's Office a little better than him, and I think that's why he asked me to be his chief deputy."
LaJoye, however, said Brown asked him about the position, and stressed that he has three other candidates waiting in the wings -- two current sheriff's officials and a former police officer, whom he declined to identify.
"It's not a done deal," LaJoye said. "She's working on my campaign because she wants me to win."