Union County sheriff's change of mind is insurance

NEW ALBANY – Eleven men are competing for the office of sheriff in Union County this summer and fall, but the most unexpected candidate in the race is the one who already holds the job.
Sheriff Tommy Wilhite filed last-minute qualifying papers to run for re-election as an independent after first announcing his intention to retire. The move caught many people by surprise, including four of his deputies who will run for the Democratic nomination.
“We certainly didn’t know the sheriff was going to run,” said Jimmy Edwards, chief deputy for the Sheriff Department. “If I had known that, I wouldn’t have run.”
Nevertheless, Edwards and three other deputies – Anthony Anderson, James “Rambo” Province and Jimmy Dean Whitten – are keeping their names on the ballot.
Wilhite says he got back into the race at the last minute as insurance against having both his staff and his public safety programs cleared out by a successor from outside his staff. If any of four deputies running wins the Democratic primary and is amenable to keeping the programs and personnel largely intact, he may be confident enough of the continuation to withdraw from the general election and retire after all.
“I won’t say that (I will withdraw) until after one of them gets it and I talk with him,” Wilhite said. “It’s not written in stone that I would withdraw. Certainly, if they would get in the general election and say, ‘No, we’re getting rid of all these programs,’ then I would stay in the race.”
Several people outside Wilhite’s department promise changes in direction for the county’s top law enforcement job. Three New Albany Police Department officers – Sergeants Chad Glasson and Jason McDaniel and Assistant Chief James “Bing” Wildman – are running for the Democratic nomination. Wildman, who has 27 years in law enforcement that included a time as chief deputy sheriff, has run against Wilhite twice before, but both men discount rumors that the election is a grudge match.
“I don’t have any bad blood myself,” Wildman said.
“It’s not anything personal,” Wilhite said. “Everybody’s got political rivals.”
Roy Cecil Jenkins, a National Guard retiree who has worked as an officer with Union County Sheriff Department and Verona Police Department, makes the Democratic primary an eight-man race.
Former Tupelo Police Department patrolman Greg Elder and Jim Taylor, a parole and probation officer with the Mississippi Department of Corrections who is also the City of New Albany’s animal control officer, filed as Republicans.
If Wilhite decides to stay in the race, he will face both the Democratic and Republican nominees in November.
“My political advisors reminded me that I can always withdraw, but I couldn’t qualify after the closing date,” he said.
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@journalinc.com.

Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

Click video to hear audio