The primary elections in Massachusetts are to be held next month, and the race for the position of Bristol County Sheriff is expected to be close, as early mail-in voting began this month.
Three candidates are running for the Democratic Party nomination to run against the current sheriff, Republican Thomas M. Hodgson, who first assumed office in 1997.
The candidates are former Somerset Police Chief George McNeil, attorney Nick Bernier from Fall River, and Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux. Hodgson faces no primary challenges.
Peter Brock, chair of the North Attleborough Town Committee, said voters he has talked to have expressed interest in Heroux’s candidacy. Brock himself endorsed Heroux based on his experience as mayor and because of his experience of working in correctional facilities.
“Most people I’ve talked to live in the North Attleborough and Attleboro regions,” Brock said. “If any candidate can run best against Hodgson, it’s him.”
Brock estimated that Heroux will do well in the northern part of Bristol County while Bernier and McNeil would have an advantage in the southern municipalities such as Fall River and Seekonk.
“I don’t know what the final vote will look like,” he said. “From what I heard, most people I know only heard of Heroux.”
While the primary election has drawn significant interest to party members like Brock, voters appear to be taking their time submitting mail-in-ballots that were sent out this month.
The North Attleborough election’s office said of the 1,933 mail-in-ballots sent out to voters, only 146 have been returned. Patrica Dolan said the office only recently sent out ballots and expects more voting to occur on the primary day of Sept. 6.
“We only sent them out just recently,” she said. “There might not be as much interest in the election at the moment.”
Heroux said the job of a sheriff is not similar to a police officer, as it requires oversight of facilities. According to his website, he has not only overseen Massachusetts prison systems but has worked within facilities in Philadelphia county Pennsylvania.
“A sheriff is not a police officer,” Heroux said. “They are both criminal justice professions, but they are completely different. A police officer is about law enforcement, traffic stops, and investigations. I know this because I worked in a jail and a prison.”
Bernier has support from several elected officials in Fall River. These include State Rep Carole Fiola, Rep Alan Silvia, and Senate Chair of Ways and Means Mike Rodrigues.
According to his campaign web site, Bernier wants to prioritize mental health and public safety if elected as sheriff. He also wants to shut down the Ash Street Jail in New Bedford as he believes it will save taxpayers money.
McNeil’s campaign touts his experience as a police officer and his tenure as Chief of Police in Somerset. During his tenure, McNeil established a K-9 unit in 2014, created an addiction outreach program, and started an explorer program for 14 to 20-year-olds interested in law enforcement.
The sheriff’s election occurs every six years. In 2016, Hodgson ran unopposed. This year’s primary election is also the most contested since 1998. In that year, Joseph MeIntyer of New Bedford defeated Steven Michael Walsh of Fall River and Robert St. S Jean of Acushnet in the Democratic primary only to lose to Hodgson by 7,488 votes.