Deja vu on sheriff’s election

Malcolm McLeod was running for Robeson County sheriff in 1950. Regardless of whether you believe history repeats itself or whether we should learn from history, the story as it relates to present day campaigns is interesting. So if you’re a local political history buff, stay with me for second, as things seem to never change.

The day before McLeod’s election, an interview with him as a sheriff’s candidate was broadcast, on Friday, May 26, 1950.

According to an article published in The Robesonian, McLeod advised bootleggers to get out of business, because if he were elected, he was coming for them. McLeod went so far as to name locations around the county where bootlegger activity was known and challenged bootleggers to politically organize against him.

The article indicated that bootlegger support was considered a strong factor in local elections at the time and McLeod was “tossing all prospect of bootlegger support out the window.”

Days after McLeod’s election, a May 29 article detailed how local vote buying originated in an earlier sheriff’s race. The reporter insinuated bootlegger’s helped buy off each sheriff so they could stay in business. The editorial page in 1950 also complained that the Sheriff’s Office never did anything when it received complaints about bootleggers. Each sheriff seemed to be a little too fair to bootleggers. McLeod promised to modernize the department and change it.

McLeod took office Dec. 4, 1950. By Jan. 9, McLeod reported to the county commissioners that since taking office he had destroyed an average of two stills a day for a total of 70 by that time, pouring out 25,600 gallons of liquor after executing 113 search warrants. He and 14 deputies made 210 arrests during that first month.

Every sheriff seems to inherit conspiracy theories of corruption. But McLeod and District Attorney Malcolm Seawell followed up on that promise.

What does that have to do with today? Well, drug crimes have replaced bootlegger crime and Robeson is on the worst end of any statistical crime measure.

Burnis Wilkins’ current campaign was probably unaware that McLeod challenged bootleggers back in 1950 the way Wilkins challenges drug dealers most recently. Wilkins’ Facebook videos with him standing at intersections informing residents where he will be serving warrants if elected would be no more than a nice campaign strategy today. After all, other candidates have promised the same though with less flare.

But with most campaigns finding their funding dwindling, leaving only a couple of frontrunners, another campaign created a newsworthy contrast this past week.

Ronnie Patterson announced at a forum that drug dealers didn’t want him to leave Red Springs as he was “fair” to them as police chief. Political operatives countywide collectively gasped, expecting supporters to clarify that what he really meant was that everyone was innocent until proven guilty and even criminals deserved fairness, because that would be a better statement. That message did come from a campaign manager in an article in The Robesonian, which provided the candidates an opportunity to clarify.

But supporters took to social media announcing they were planning on ensuring any drug dealers and their families got to the polls to vote for Patterson. It left other candidates scratching their heads.

Surely it wasn’t an intentional strategy — like a few who say if elected they will raise taxes, as if that’s appealing to voters as well.

If Patterson is saying he is a kind and fair man to all, then that’s fair. But it would be another odd strategy for any campaign to claim being the drug dealer’s choice for sheriff. His campaign has tried to walk it back a bit as it prompted that front page story during which it was said he missspoke.

Now if you’re wondering how many votes the faux pas will cost Patterson, the answer is none. Supporters will forgive.

But misspeaking was a gift to Patterson’s opponents who may be more motivated to vote as Wilkins now appears to be the vocal candidate, forfeiting drug dealer support. Yesteryear it was bootleggers the county needed out of business. Today it’s drug dealers.

Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party.

Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party.