By RANDI ROSSMANN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Windsor Police Chief Steve Freitas becomes Sonoma County’s next elected sheriff by default on Tuesday, extending a two-decade streak of uncontested elections for the job.
Others to cruise into office Tuesday in unopposed races are Steve Herrington as Sonoma County’s next school superintendent, Nancy Shaffer as a Sonoma County superior court judge and incumbents Janice Atkinson as county clerk-recorder and Rod Dole as county auditor-controller.
Freitas, without the need to campaign, was on vacation Tuesday taking care of home projects including a trip to the county dump.
Herrington, Windsor’s school superintendent, was at work crunching numbers for that district’s budget process.
Despite running unopposed, neither man Tuesday was willing to fully accept their status as elected officials, citing hours to go before polls close.
“I’ve been not counting any chickens until they’re hatched,” said Freitas. He suggested the remote possibility of a write-in candidate. “I’m happy that it’s here,” Freitas said of election day. “It’ll be nice tomorrow when it’s over.”
Herrington also expressed caution in declaring an early victory. “The relief will be going down to the election department tonight to watch the returns. I told my wife, if Mickey Mouse beats me, I’m in trouble,” he said.
“Many people have called to congratulate me today,” Herrington acknowledged. “I don’t consider it an omen of bad luck.”
Tuesday night Freitas said he would be going to gatherings for both District Attorney candidates and the two candidates running for county supervisor for the north county.
Those races have been heated and occasionally antagonistic, the type of election the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office has avoided since 1990.
That year, sheriff’s Lt. Mark Ihde took on Sheriff Dick Michaelsen, a former Santa Rosa police sergeant. The effort to unseat Michaelsen by department insiders was bitter, highlighted seven ranking sheriff’s deputies holding a press conference to blast Michaelsen’s tenure.
Ihde won by a landslide and since then, there has been only candidate each cycle, and each has been from within the department.
The carefully orchestrated and ongoing effort by the Sheriff’s Office includes grooming up-and-coming deputies to take over the mantle and reduce the chance of someone coming from outside.
Immediately prior to Ihde’s tenure, the sheriff’s posts had been won by two Santa Rosa police sergeants and a state fire inspector.
Freitas said the lack of competition for the top job hasn’t hurt the department. “I think the group of sheriffs that have been in there since those uncontested elections has done well,” Freitas said. “The Sheriff’s Office has overall been run well.”
Freitas, 47, is a 20-year veteran of the department. He was a lieutenant in 2005 when he was picked to be chief of Windsor, which contracts with the county for law enforcement services.
With the recent retirement of Assistant Sheriff Rich Sweeting, Sheriff Bill Cogbill gave Freitas the title.
In July, Freitas will return to the county office, working closely with Cogbill for the rest of the sheriff’s term.
Windsor City Hall was expected to pick its new police chief by early July.
Five sheriff’s office lieutenants have applied so far for the job. Sonoma County’s last two sheriffs, Cogbill and Jim Piccinini, also were Windsor police chiefs prior to taking the county job post.