LUMBERTON — Burnis Wilkins, whose law enforcement career spans five decades, ended a 17-month campaign to become sheriff on Tuesday night by coming out on top in a crowded campaign that was often ugly.
Wilkins, who used social media to get out his message of a credential-based campaign, garnered 8,498 votes to defeat Ronnie Patterson, the Red Springs police chief, who had 7,179. Running third with 2,555 votes was Randy Graham. He was followed by James Jones, a retired Highway Patrol trooper, with 1,500 votes and George Kenworthy, the Robeson County jail administrator, with 540 votes.
Wilkins will be sworn in in December because there is no Republican opposition in November.
“I am 100 percent glad it’s over,” Wilkins said. “It’s been a rough, grueling 17 months.”
Wilkins first announced he was running for sheriff in last 2016, right after Hurricane Matthew.
“I think the people of Robeson County have spoken,” he said. “We came together as one, which can be shown by the election results around the county.
“I look forward to working with Sheriff (Kenneth) Sealey in the coming months as we meet with my transition team to take over the office in December.”
Patterson could not be reached for comment.
“It was a hard-fought election. It was a lot of fun. Congratulations to Mr. Wilkins, the winner,” said John McNeill, one of Patterson’s three campaign managers.
The Robesonian has learned that Patterson led by about 600 votes going into Tuesday through get-out-the-vote efforts in One-Stop Voting. But Wilkins had expressed confidence that he would win big on Tuesday, and that happened.
The campaign was often bitter, with the Patterson camp early on spreading word that Wilkins has used two racial epithets while addressing a crowd in Parkton. McNeill, the former mayor of Red Springs, said a Parkton resident had told the Patterson camp what happened, but that person was never identified by name.
Late in the campaign, it became public knowledge that Patterson had perjured himself while being investigated for sexual harassment in 2008 while a Red Springs police captain, and his ability to testify in court had been compromised. That revelation came after at least part of his personnel file was delivered to The Robesonian. The District Attorney’s Office, with help from the State Bureau of Investigation, is investigating how the file went missing from Red Springs Town Hall.