Bristol County voters made history by electing, for the first time in 25 years, a Democrat to serve as the County Sheriff.
Attleboro Mayor Paul R. Heroux defeated incumbent Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson on Tuesday night in a closely-watched, competitive election. Heroux, who has called for a modernization of the Bristol County jail system, said his victory was a message from voters to Hodgson that they wanted to change in leadership and strategy.
“This victory could be the largest upset in Massachusetts tonight,” Heroux told supporters in Somerset. “People were ready for change, it was time.”
Hodgson, who rallied with supporters in Westport, conceded the election after Heroux declared victory at 1 a.m. on Nov. 9. Hodgson had criticized Heroux for not having law enforcement experience, but congratulated his opponent after the victory.
“It’s like a competition,” Hodgson said. “In the end, you win a game or you lose a game.”
Hodgson—who started in Bristol County politics as a New Bedford City Councilor—was nominated by the former Republican Gov. William Weld to serve as sheriff in 1997. He won contested elections in 1998, 2004, and 2010, and in 2016, ran unopposed.
Hodgson received attention and criticism for his hardline stance on immigration–an issue he believes is important for a sheriff. In 2017 he made a proposition that his inmates could help build former President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall. He also received criticism for in-prison suicides—such as the recent suicide of Adam Howe in New Bedford’s Ash Street Jail.
Hodgson has brushed off these criticisms, defending his record. Heroux, meanwhile, honed in on these criticisms throughout the campaign.
The message of the sheriff’s office ia an administrative role and hammering Hodgson’s controversies were successful for Heroux, as he managed to flip several municipalities such as Easton and North Attleborough from Democrat to Republican for the first time in the office’s electoral history.
Hodgson did flip Acushnet, a traditionally Democratic area to Republican and had advantages in areas such as Somerset and Swansea. Heroux, however, managed to keep his losses small in these areas and won New Bedford, a heavily Democratic city, by a margin of more than 12,000 votes.
Unlike his fellow Democrats who previously took on Hodgson, Heroux received heavy support from the Massachusetts Democratic Party.
Maura Healey, who was elected as the Commonwealth’s first female and openly gay governor, endorsed Heroux early in the General Election. She, along with other Democrats such as Auditor-Elect Diana DiZoglio (D), campaigned with Heroux and helped knock on doors in Fall River and New Bedford.
“Paul was an independent voice in the State House when he was a Representative and as mayor,” DiZoglio said. “He will be an independent voice as Sheriff as well.”
As sheriff, Heroux said he wants to combat recidivism through what he calls, “three pillars of discharge.” These are housing for the homeless, employment through education, and health care to combat drug addiction. He also wishes to improve the budget of the office and cut spending on items for personal use.
One promise he has made to voters, however, is that he will only serve for two terms. Heroux said he believes in turnover in an executive office and believes serving in one office for life is not productive.
“Look, I’m only going to serve for two terms–12 years if I can,” he said. “Serving as sheriff for life is not a good thing. Having term limits on executive offices is a good thing as I have chosen to impose on myself when I was mayor.”