By Daniel Silliman
Sounding tired and hoarse, the day after the primary election, sheriff candidate Kem Kimbrough was working to marshal support and move toward a run-off race against the sitting sheriff.
"It's already in motion," Kimbrough said. "We're at 0-0, starting today, and we're starting back up."
In a five-man race for the sheriff's office, Kimbrough, an attorney and one-time jail commander, pulled ahead of the others challenging Sheriff Victor Hill in the Democratic primary. According to the final, unofficial results, available Wednesday, Kimbrough garnered 26.5 percent of the vote.
Hill, seeking re-election to a second term, had 49 percent of the vote, but couldn't quite come up with the majority needed to avoid a runoff. With 58 of the 60 precincts reporting Tuesday night, and the votes from Hill strongholds in North Clayton counted, it looked like the sheriff had his victory, with 52 percent. When the 59th precinct was counted, though, the early and absentee voters brought Hill's numbers down by three percent, throwing the race into an Aug. 5 runoff.
Kimbrough wasn't quite ready to concede, when he saw the sheriff's lead at midnight, and seemed to be on the edge of frustration and resignation, but was holding out hope. When the final ballots were counted, he said Wednesday, "everybody was just sort of whip-sawed back into euphoria."
The sheriff could not be reached for comment, despite repeated calls to his cell phone and home phone on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Two of the contenders who sought to unseat Hill threw their support behind Kimbrough on Wednesday. Garland Watkins and Sherman Lemon -- both busy finding and pulling up their campaign signs -- said they would work to get Kimbrough elected.
"Whatever it requires," said Lemon, "I'm going to throw my support behind him, because we have to get Hill out of there."
The other Democratic contender, Ernest Strozier, had not spoken to the Kimbrough campaign or made any gestures of support, as of Wednesday evening.
Watkins said he's confident Kimbrough will win the runoff in three weeks, because more Democrats voted for a challenger than for the incumbent. Hill had 12,900 votes, according to the available results, and the other four men had a combined total of 13,397.
"We had the division of four candidates," said Watkins, who ended the night with a little more than 14 percent of the vote. "Had just one candidate run against him, he'd be out of there."
Kimbrough said his campaign had begun work to bring all the anti-Hill voters into his election effort, but said he is planning, too, to reach out to the voters who supported the sitting sheriff.
According to Kimbrough, Hill got a lot of support from segments of the county that feel ignored by other officials and feel besieged by crime. While property owners and people who pay a lot in taxes, like those on the southern end of the county, worry about lawsuits and allegations of gross, financial mismanagement, Kimbrough said many renters and senior citizens just want someone who declares war on drug dealers, gambling dens and rumored prostitution rings.
"They're interested in hearing somebody talk tough," Kimbrough said. "They feel neglected. Victor can swoop and make a difference once or twice and he's a hero ... you've got to 'give the devil his due,' as they say."
Kimbrough said he will work to communicate with those more than 12,000 Hill supporters, telling them he understands their concerns, and as sheriff, he would not abandon them or neglect them.
"I have the experience, and the education, and the consensus-building history to do what you want done, even better than you've got now," he said.