Ed Graybeal with friends and family celebrating the victory. (Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
In a neck-in-neck election finish, Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal successfully held off a hard-hitting challenger in Tuesday’s Republican primary and will keep his job for the next four years.
Graybeal won by just 13 votes. He garnered 6,377 votes to Ford’s 6,364. The results remain unofficial until the votes are certified.
Minutes after the final numbers were posted on the Washington County Election Commission website, Graybeal said he was feeling pride.
“A lot of people here have worked so hard, a lot of people who had a lot of things said against them that wasn’t true,” he said from his Johnson City home where he gathered with some of his supporters. “The people of Washington County have given me the honor and privilege to serve for the next four years.”
Graybeal has served as sheriff since 2003 when he was appointed by the Washington County commission to finish the office vacated by then-sheriff Fred Phillips.
He was first elected in the August 2004 general election, beating out two opponents. He beat out one challenger in the 2006 election and ran unopposed in 2010.
“My department — every individual in my department — does such a fantastic job every day and I’d like to thank them and the voters for giving me another four years,” Graybeal said Tuesday night.
Graybeal said he doesn’t know if Ford will ask for a re-count since the votes were close.
“If that happens, that happens,” he said. “We did nothing wrong. We worked hard.”
The sheriff said he knew it would be a close race given the fact that Ford spent “three times what I spent” on advertising and other campaign expenses.
Ford, 51, publicly set his sights on the sheriff’s position in a campaign kick-off Jan. 16 and came out of the box swinging with criticism of Graybeal’s operation of the sheriff’s office. He currently serves as the Operations Manager for the Town of Jonesborough and previously was the town's police chief. Ford also previously worked at the sheriff’s office two different times in the 1980s and 1990s.
He was careful to not criticize employees, and emphasized during a debate hosted by the Johnson City Press in April that he did not plan to fire current employees if he was elected.
In fact, in his kick-off speech, Ford promised those employees that “help is on the way.”
Ford targeted the number of jail inmate deaths in 2012 and nepotism among WCSO employees as some of the reasons Graybeal had to go. In one advertisement, Ford also attacked Graybeal for what he portrayed as a lack of religious instruction opportunity for inmates.
Repeated attempts to reach Ford on Tuesday night were unsuccessful. He did not return messages left on his personal cell phone, his home phone or his work phone. The woman answering the phone at the Jonesborough Visitors Center, where Ford was to be gathered with his supporters on election night, said Ford had already left the facility by 10:30 p.m.
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