There may be a front-runner in the three-way race for Rockingham County sheriff, but all three candidates say they are campaigning hard for the office in the lead-up to the election.
"I'm still keeping busy," state Sen. Michael Downing, R-Salem, said last week before a campaign event in Stratham. He said he had another event in Nottingham the next night.
Downing is the most visible candidate in the race, after defeating five others for the Republican nomination in last month's primary.
There were no candidates on the Democratic primary ballot, but Shannon Coyle of Derry ran a write-in campaign that earned her the party's nomination. Another candidate, Dorothy Heyl, declared her run for the seat as an independent in June.
"It's very positive. I've heard from people, 'Hey, I saw your sign out there,' that kind of thing," Coyle said. "The Democrats are excited — they know that we have to get people out to vote on Election Day."
Heyl said people have called her asking for her campaign signs — including some of the former candidates for the GOP nomination.
"The hardest part is being an independent," she said. "You don't get to go to all of these things the Republicans and the Democrats have, but it is going well."
Downing said his experience sets him apart from his opponents. He served in the military police, New Hampshire State Police and the Salem Police Department, before retiring due to a disability.
After his law enforcement career, Downing entered politics, serving as a state representative and then in the state Senate. He owns a small business in Salem, something he said would help him manage the department's budget of close to $5 million.
"You can appreciate a little better, I think, when they make these decisions what the impact is going to be on people," he said.
Coyle, who has been a Londonderry police officer for nine years, said she was someone who could lead the department in the years to come.
"I'm up to date with certification, I'm up to date with what we're doing now in law enforcement," Coyle said.
She is the only certified police officer running for the spot in the general election.
"I do believe it's important. I know we don't have those specific credentials for the job, but it really helps, especially for morale at the department," she said.
Downing said the law does not require the sheriff to be a current police officer.
"It's important they have a background in law enforcement, so they understand what they're asking people to do, but its an administrative position," he said. "You're overseeing over 100 people. You've got to have experience with budgets and managing people, so that's more important."
Heyl has 30 years experience owning her own business, maintaining 'prestigious" homes, but has no law enforcement experience.
"I think that, as a small business owner, I have a lot of experience to bring to the command of the sheriff's department," she said. "The present staff has many years of law enforcement experience and I think that between my experience and their experience, we can make the best sheriff's department that there's ever been."
Downing said the budget would be one of his priorities as sheriff.
"Because of the financial situation the entire country is in, budgets are being stressed, as well as personnel," he said. "They're asked to do more with less."
He said communication would also be key, saying there are some radio dead spots in the county and communications equipment is aging. He said federal or state grants would be important to solving some of those problems. Bidding for the contract to guard the Manchester Boston Regional Airport would be another priority, Downing said.
Coyle said she would make sure training was an important part of the office's budget.
"We want to make sure that training is important, that we spend the money on training and equipment, and we make sure things work," she said.
Other potential changes, she said, would have to wait until she was able to learn more about the office. But Coyle she said she didn't think the office needed any major changes or had any major problems.
"I'd want to be in there for a little to see how things really work," she said.
Heyl said she would not go into the agency and make sweeping changes. But, she said, she would like to see the department help local towns more often, especially through anti-drug programs for children. Making sure employees were in departments where they had the most expertise was also important, she said.
"They're there to serve and I think they want to be the best they can possibly be," she said. "If they're being held back by something, if they're not in the right division, if they don't have the proper equipment or proper training, then they can't do their best."
The person elected next week will fill a position that has been vacant since Sheriff Dan Linehan and his deputy, Maj. Mark Peirce, resigned last year. They were facing criminal prosecution by the attorney general's office for leaking the annulled criminal record of Linehan's 2008 political opponent, David Lovejoy.
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Name: Mike Downing
Political party: Republican
Elective experience: State representative, state senator
What three specific things do you promise voters you will do if elected? The most important thing today is to be very conscious of your budget, to spend every dollar wisely, make it go as far as it can, which leads you to work closely with local departments, state agencies, and federal agencies to ensure you get the best bang for your buck.
Name: Shannon Coyle
Political party: Democrat
Elective experience: None
What three specific things do you promise voters you will do if elected?
Improve community relations and be fiscally responsible.
Name: Dorothy Heyl
Hometown: North Salem
Political party: Independent
Elective experience: None
What three specific things do you promise voters you will do if elected? To keep the county and state the safest, I will work with staff and county commissioners to maintain strong leadership, service to the courts and the citizens. I will stay within the budget agreed upon by me and the county commissioners. I will do my best to increase revenue.