There’s a high-profile Republican contest this year for Saratoga County sheriff, an office that hasn’t changed hands since the Nixon administration.
The pending retirement of Sheriff James D. Bowen — after 41 years in office — has lead to a primary contest Sept. 10 between two experienced law-enforcement officers: Jeff Gildersleeve and Michael Zurlo.
Gildersleeve, a former state police investigator, is putting up a strong challenge to Zurlo, who spent most of a 36-year law enforcement career with the sheriff’s office and has powerful endorsements.
Gildersleeve acknowledges he’s the underdog in the race. “From what I’m hearing, we’re doing a lot better than they anticipated,” he said.
Zurlo, 59, of Stillwater, has the backing of the Saratoga County Republican Committee and elected officials including state assemblymen James Tedisco and Dan Stec, state Sen. Hugh T. Farley, and U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson. Bowen has endorsed Zurlo, and so have the county corrections officer’s union and Council 82, a law-enforcement union.
“I feel very positive,” Zurlo said.
Gildersleeve, on the other hand, is backed by the National Rifle Association and has the support of some vocal critics of the state’s SAFE Act firearms restrictions. He has been endorsed by Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor in 2010.
“I have said I will not actively enforce [the SAFE Act],” Gildersleeve said. “There are other laws that cover everything in the SAFE Act.”
Gildersleeve said he has the best experience for serving as sheriff, having been a state police senior investigator who had worked on interagency drug task forces.
“Part of what I bring is the ability to work with other agencies,” Gildersleeve said.
32 YEARS WITH SHERIFF
Zurlo spent 36 years in law enforcement, retiring in 2010. He was a Mechanicville police officer for four years, and then spent the next 32 years with the sheriff’s department, rising through the ranks from patrol deputy to supervisor of investigations. He was also a Stillwater town justice for 11⁄2 years, resigning last spring when he announced he would run for sheriff.
Zurlo said he has ideas for how to change the sheriff’s department if he is elected.
He wants to have deputies who are out on road patrol visiting schools on a regular basis, and he said there are plans to increase the department’s electronic presence, which is now limited to information needed to apply for a pistol permit located on the Saratoga County website.
“We will have a website that will have links to sex offenders, and we’ll put up the five most-wanted,” Zurlo said. “Social media is going to be big.”
Zurlo said he’s hearing very little about the SAFE Act as he goes door to door.
“People want to know what I’ll be doing to protect them,” he said. “Basically, I’ll be out there catching criminals. I’ll be working hard.”
26 YEARS AS A TROOPER
Gildersleeve said he has more leadership qualifications than Zurlo.
Gildersleeve, 56, is a former U.S. Marine who served 26 years in the state police, rising to the rank of senior investigator. Most recently, he has been a drug crime team leader and A tactical team trainer with the Warren County Sheriff’s Department.
“I’ve led more high-risk arrests than I came to remember,” Gildersleeve said.
Whoever is selected in the GOP primary will be the overwhelming favorite in the November general election, given Saratoga County’s voter enrollment makeup, which leans heavily Republican.
The winner will face Democrat and Conservative party candidate Phil Lindsey and independent candidate Jason Longton.
The sheriff oversees not just road patrols and other law enforcement activities, but the operations of the county jail in Milton and the emergency communications center located there. More than 200 people work for the department.
The sheriff serves a four-year term at an annual salary of $113,305.