In the first open race for Onondaga County sheriff in 20 years, voters will have a choice among four candidates.
On March 1, the Onondaga County Republican Committee chose DeWitt Police Chief Gene Conway as its nominee. In April, retired law enforcement officer John “Jack” Garafalo confirmed that he is also seeking the office as a Republican.
As of early April, two Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination: retired sheriff’s Sgt. Toby Shelley and sheriff’s Sgt. Crayg Dykes. The Onondaga County Democratic Committee is expected to hold a meeting to designate its candidates May 8.
The race is open because incumbent Republican Kevin Walsh, who became sheriff in 1994, has chosen to retire after being elected to the office five times. In New York, the sheriff is considered the top law enforcement official within a county.
The Democratic party has an advantage in voter enrollment. Of the county’s 275,494 voters, 36 percent — or 101,475 — are Democrats; 30 percent — or 83,433 — are Republicans; 25 percent – 69,148 — are unaffiliated with a political party.
The election is Nov. 4.
Here’s a preview of of the candidates:
Toby Shelley (Democrat)
This is Toby Shelley’s third run for public office. In 2010, he ran for sheriff against his then-boss, Walsh. In 2011, he ran for Onondaga County Legislature from District 6. After that loss, he retired from the sheriff’s department.
For 17 years, Shelley, 47, was in law enforcement as a road patrol supervisor and on the fugitive task force of the sheriff’s office. Shelley is also a senior master sergeant in the Air Force and National Guard, retiring this June. He has served in Iraq as an operations fire chief. He has also worked as a deputy fire chief at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base.
He lives with his wife and three children in Otisco, where he has run a family farm for 20 years. He also operates an excavation business, Shelley Enterprises, based in Otisco. His business works on various kinds of projects, including sawmills, trucking and custom welding.
In his campaign, he cites his diverse job experience in the sheriff’s department, the military and his farm and excavation businesses. “Police work isn’t just about policing,” Shelley said in an interview. “It’s that diversity of experience in life that sets me apart.”
In his campaign, he proposes to save money by limiting the number of take-home cars for officers. He estimates that would save $3 million. In return, that would help fund a helicopter that the sheriff’s office lost in funding cuts from the county legislature for in 2010, he said. And it would put more police officers on the street, Shelley said.
Another of his proposals is his “Save Schools Program,” he said, which would hire 17 retired police officers as guards for various Onondaga County schools. Four officers in schools now would be transferred back to road patrol, he said.
He also hopes to strengthen the sheriff’s office’s ties with the community, Shelley said. “People no longer have a connection with the police,” Shelley said. “You should know the police officers that work in your area.”
Crayg Dykes (Democrat)
Crayg Dykes is a police sergeant with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department. He joined the sheriff’s office in 1991 and has worked in such roles as a road patrol officer, undercover narcotics investigator and major crimes detective, his Facebook page, “Dykesforsheriff” says.
Dykes did not return three e-mails and five Facebook messages requesting an interview for this story.
In 2011, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant, supervising deputies at the sheriff’s police department. Since 1997, Dykes has worked as an instructor for veteran police officers and police recruits, according to his Facebook page.
In 2012, Dykes and Sgt. Jeremy Young, also with the sheriff’s office, were recognized at the American Red Cross of Central New York’s Real Heroes Breakfast for rescuing a 96-year-old bedridden woman from her burning home.
As sheriff, he said on his Facebook page, he hopes to better connect with the youth community, work with local law enforcement agencies and reestablish trust with the community through strong fiscal responsibility. Dykes has previously said if elected sheriff, he would turn down collecting a pension.
Dykes lives in Cicero with his wife and daughter, his Facebook page says. He grew up on Syracuse’s West Side.
Gene Conway (Republican)
Gene Conway, 60, has just started his 13th year as the police chief in DeWitt. He started his career in 1977 as a patrol officer for the village of North Syracuse Police Department. Conway spent 24 years at the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department, rising through the ranks from a deputy officer on patrol to a sergeant, lieutenant and captain of criminal investigations. This is his first run for elected office.
He cites his variety of law enforcement experience at the village, county and town levels as a factor that makes him the strongest candidate, Conway said in an interview. “I’ve been a police officer for every day of those 38 years,” he said.
His experience working with police agencies at the state and federal level is also an asset he can bring to the sheriff’s office, Conway said. His “fiscal integrity” running DeWitt’s police department can be beneficial to the sheriff’s office, Conway said. “I’m tough on crime but also tough on spending,” he said. “We need to do as much as possible providing police services but at the lowest possible cost.”
Conway attended West Genesee High School and has bachelor’s degree in public justice from the State University of New York at Oswego. He is married and has two children. He lives in Camillus.
“My goal is to present to the community the most professional sheriff’s department possible,” Conway said. “Professionalism is very important to me.”
John “Jack” Garafalo (Republican)
John “Jack” Garafalo, 54, has held a variety of jobs in law enforcement. He began his career as a corrections officer at the Jamesville Penitentiary in 1982. He also worked at the Onondaga County Correctional Facility before becoming a campus police officer at Syracuse University in the 1980’s.
Garafalo has also worked as an officer with the Amtrak Federal Police in Philadelphia and New York. He was also appointed as a drug agent with the Pennsylvania State Bureau of Narcotics, working under the attorney general. In Pennsylvania, Garafalo also ran the Montgomery County Drug Task Force, the second largest of its kind in the nation.
“I have hundreds of drug arrests under my belt,” Garafalo said, “and thousands of collaborative drug arrests.”
After retiring, he worked part-time for the Department of Homeland Security, training federal air marshals on surveillance. He is now the director of training for the Eastern States Vice Investigators Association, where he recruits police instructors for vice crimes like narcotics, prostitution, and terrorism.
Garafalo was born and raised in Syracuse and now lives in Baldwinsville.
If elected sheriff, Garafalo plans to create special units to investigate abuse of senior citizens, drug dealers and bullying. “If you’re being harassed and bullied, it’s a life changer,” he said. “It causes a lot of problems.
He also promised to go “line-by-line” through the sheriff department’s budget to find better ways to save money. “I think the sheriff’s department has really been mismanaged,” Garafalo said. “I want to see where every penny of the $84 million is going.”
Garafalo cites as a strength his lack of ties to the sheriff’s department. “I don’t know anybody there and don’t owe them any favors,” he said. “I can go in there with a clean slate.”
(Kristen Eskow is a junior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism.) Editor’s note: This story was updated with information on Garafalo.