There’s a clear distinction between the two Democratic candidates in the primary for Pinellas County Sheriff: One has worked at the Sheriff’s Office, and the other has not. While an outsider’s view can be helpful, the role of sheriff requires an innate understanding of the organization. That’s largely why the Tampa Bay Times editorial board is recommending Eliseo Santana for Pinellas Sheriff in the Aug. 18 Democratic primary.
Santana, 62, was a longtime employee in communications and technology for the Sheriff’s Office before leaving in 2012. Neither Santana nor his opponent has ever been a sworn officer, something that would make it hard to be an effective sheriff. Santana touts his six years of experience in the Army and Florida National Guard in the 1970s and early 1980s, though that won’t have prepared him to run an office with roughly 3,000 employees and a $300 million budget.
Where Santana shines is on his technical knowledge of how to implement things like body cameras. He talks about experiencing racism while he worked at the Sheriff’s Office, and also points out that much of the command staff is white. He wants to work on emphasizing community policing, using more social workers and “ending the militarization of our domestic police force,” according to his website. These are important goals as law enforcement agencies across the country confront systemic racism.
This is not Santana’s first run at public office — he most recently ran for Clearwater City Council a few months ago and the Pinellas School Board in 2016. His political record raises concerns about whether he is running for Sheriff because he wants that particular job or simply any elected position.
James McLynas, 61, is running for Sheriff a second time, prompted by a disagreement with the way the Sheriff’s Office handled an issue he had with his then-wife years earlier. He alleged that a sheriff’s deputy interfered in a criminal investigation or court cases for his then-wife.
Santana has raised more than $30,000, almost double McLynas’ total, based on campaign finance documents. If he wins, Santana faces a steep uphill battle in the Nov. 3 general election where he would face popular Republican incumbent Bob Gualtieri, who has raised almost $80,000. But Gualtieri’s controversial stances on arming teachers, immigration and Stand Your Ground may work in Santana’s favor, particularly given Gualtieri’s continued refusal to enact body cameras, even in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis and ensuing protests.
The Sheriff is elected to a four-year term and earns $173,730 a year. In the 2020 Democratic primary for Pinellas Sheriff, the Tampa Bay Times editorial board recommends Eliseo Santana.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news