Democratic candidates for Bennington County Sheriff could face off again in November polls

From left, Beau Alexander, Joel Howard and James Gulley Jr. Courtesy photos

The three men who vied for the Democratic nomination for Bennington County sheriff could face off again in the general election, with the losing candidates running as independents.

James Gulley Jr., a Manchester police officer and law enforcement instructor, clinched the Democratic nomination with a nod from 44% of voters, or 2,255 votes. There were no candidates on the Republican side.

Gulley said he regards his win as voter endorsement of his proposed goals as sheriff, which include combating violent crimes and illicit drugs, and upholding fair and impartial policing practices.

“I was extremely humbled, proud, honored to be considered the next sheriff,” he said, adding he is looking forward to working with community members to solve local problems and restoring leadership in the law enforcement agency.

Gulley said the primary outcome also was a message from voters “they want that change” in the local sheriff’s department.

Joel Howard, a Bennington County sheriff’s deputy who finished first runner-up, agrees. He had been endorsed by outgoing Sheriff Chad Schmidt and trailed Gulley by 23 percentage points in the primary.

“I had to fight an uphill battle,” Howard said on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, Chad's endorsement, I think, hurt me more than it helped me.”

Some county residents consider Schmidt an absentee sheriff given his lack of public presence and engagement since 2020. Schmidt, who has held his seat since 2009, said his wife and children now live in Tennessee, and that he shuttles back and forth.

The Schmidts’ property acquisition in the South took place about a year after the sheriff was accused of a conflict of interest in a domestic violence case. The criminal defendant argued that a sheriff’s deputy shouldn’t have been involved in the investigation because the complainant was a woman with whom Schmidt had allegedly exchanged sexually explicit messages and had once alerted about a forthcoming warrant for her arrest. 

Schmidt denied the allegations and said the messages hadn’t come from him.

“Unfortunately, I’m tied to the old (sheriff),” Howard said of Tuesday’s election. “It's not the results I wanted, but I kind of expected it, with my boss.”

Howard has already filed the paperwork to run as an independent in the general election in November. The deadline for filing was last Thursday.

But on Wednesday afternoon, Howard was unsure whether he’d continue in the sheriff’s race. “I’m gonna take a couple of days to sit back and think about it,” he said.

Beau Alexander, on the other hand, is decided he will transition into an independent candidate for sheriff. He finished last in the three-way primary race, receiving 15% of the vote.

Alexander sees a path to victory in winning over Republican, Progressive and independent voters as well as the more than 1,000 Democratic voters who didn’t pick a sheriff candidate on Tuesday. After taking a short break from campaigning, Alexander said he’ll return to knocking on doors and discussing his vision for change in the sheriff’s department.

He said Gulley has secured the Democratic nomination, “but the elections are not over until November.”

In the county’s other contested election, for the position of high bailiff, Bennington College student William Greer conceded to incumbent Fred Gilbar on Wednesday morning.

The candidates finished neck and neck, with a difference of just 1.49 percentage points, or 77 votes. Gilbar, a local sheriff’s deputy, got 34.94% against Greer’s 33.45%.

“I absolutely accept the results,” Greer said. “There's no need to do a recount.”

Gilbar didn’t respond to a request for comment on Wednesday afternoon.

Greer, who is advocating for systemic changes in Vermont’s sheriff’s departments, said he didn’t register to run as an independent. And as of Wednesday, the 19-year-old said he had not yet considered whether to launch a write-in campaign but wasn’t opposed to people writing his name on their November ballot. 

“This is not at all the end of me being out in the community and helping,” he said.

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Tiffany Tan

About Tiffany

Tiffany Tan is VTDigger's Southern Vermont reporter. Before joining VTDigger, she covered cops and courts for the Bennington Banner from 2018 to 2021. Prior to that, Tiffany worked for the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota and spent more than 10 years working for newspapers and television stations in Manila, Singapore and Beijing.

Email: [email protected]

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