L-E calls sheriff's race for incumbent John T. Darr

Muscogee County Sheriff John T. Darr cruised to re-election Tuesday, retaining the badge in a resounding victory over former Columbus police officer Mark LaJoye. The Democratic incumbent took more than three-quarters of the vote, according to unofficial tallies that did include absentee votes. Provisional votes will be tabulated by the end of the week.

Darr finished with 48,396 votes or 76.18 percent. LaJoye had 15,065 votes or 23.71 percent.

“I’m glad it’s over with, and we can keep moving the Sheriff’s Office forward to where it needs to be,” Darr said. “I think a lot of people, when they take a look at what we’re doing with the Sheriff’s Office, they’re real happy.”

The landslide marked a sharp contrast from this summer’s Democratic primary when Darr narrowly avoided an upset loss to former sheriff’s lieutenant Pam Brown. LaJoye, a Republican, had counted on Brown’s support at the polls Tuesday, saying he would consider appointing her chief deputy if elected.But Darr’s supporters far outnumbered LaJoye’s.

“From the little bit that I know and have heard he’s done a good job,” said Patricia Powell, a voter who cast her ballot at Wynnton Methodist Church. LaJoye, who ran in 2008 as a write-in candidate, did not return calls late Tuesday seeking comment.

Darr redoubled his efforts after squeaking by in the primary, drawing bipartisan support and winning endorsements from a number of high-profile Republicans. He dwarfed LaJoye in fund-raising, as evidenced by his ubiquitous red-and-blue billboards and yard signs.

LaJoye failed to generate support among establishment Republicans, even as he agreed with Darr that the office should no longer be a partisan position. One top GOP official said in an interview last month that he could count on one hand the number of Republicans he knew casting ballots for LaJoye, adding LaJoye hadn’t made his case or differentiated himself from the sheriff.

“I don’t know anything about LaJoye,” said voter Matthew Clay. “That’s probably why I voted for Darr.”

The victory gave new political momentum to Darr after a lengthy campaigning season in which he was nearly unseated early on. He defeated Brown by just 68 votes this summer, a razor-thin margin that seemed to add a sense of urgency to his second-round efforts against LaJoye.

There was little love lost between the career lawmen in the weeks leading up to Election Day, with both sides blaming the other for the acrimony. LaJoye accused the sheriff of lacking leadership, being inaccessible and running a degenerate department.

“We feel that the Sheriff’s Office is broken,” LaJoye said last month. “Consistently over the years, it’s lost its credibility, and my job is to bring that credibility back.”

Darr ran on what he said was a proven track record of community service and effective leadership, pointing to a series of initiatives in the Muscogee County Jail designed to reduce recidivism, including a veterans dorm that’s drawn national media attention. He said LaJoye knowingly misrepresented his record for political gain.

“I had two opponents and all they wanted to do was attack me,” Darr said of Brown and LaJoye. “I never heard anything concrete about what they were going to do to make the department better. Everybody wanted to attack my character, but that’s the one thing that is impeccable about me — my integrity and my character.”

Darr said he’s excited about having another four years to improve the jail. He’s made it a priority of his second term to ensure the city comes out from its consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department over the upkeep of the Muscogee County Jail.

“It’s an honor and privilege to be the sheriff of any county,” Darr said, “but it’s truly an honor to be the sheriff here in Muscogee County, and I take it very serious.”