Candidates for Marion County sheriff race tout different experiences

By on November 2nd, 2012

Correction: In the audio report, Bernie DeCastro is identified as the Democratic candidate. He is actually the Constitution Party candidate.

About a month after former Republican candidate Dan Kuhn dropped out of the Marion County Sheriff’s race after a highly publicized sex scandal, his Republican replacement is getting ready to square off in the Nov. 6 election.

Republican candidate Chris Blair will face Constitution Party candidate Bernie DeCastro in the election for Marion County sheriff.

But Blair and DeCastro have taken different paths leading to their campaigns.

Decastro, the CEO of the Re-Entry Center of Ocala, a non-profit company contracted to provide halfway-house services for the Department of Corrections, was raised in Miami. It was there that he was charged with drug-related armed robbery in 1976, according to Miami-Dade court records. He was sentenced to life in prison.

While serving this sentence, DeCastro began to turn his life around, he said.

In 1984, he was paroled, and 10 years later he was given a full and unconditional pardon by Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, allowing him to run for office.

“I finally came to the conclusion that my very best efforts had caused me to end up in prison, and I realized that I couldn’t fix myself,” DeCastro said. “I had tried and tried….I just finally came to the realization that I needed some divine help.”

Blair has lived in Marion County since he was a teenager and says he is qualified for the position because he has worked his way through the ranks.

“I think because of my 35 years experience and being there at the sheriff’s office for so long that I know what they need,” Blair said. “I’ve been in the community for two years, out here campaigning. I understand their needs.”

Both candidates also claim to have the right skills needed for the job.

DeCastro said leadership is an important qualification for the position — a qualification he has, he said.

“I started my own organization in 1987,” he said. “And I have the leadership skills. I have the management skills. I have the supervisory skills, the fiscal skills. I have all the skills necessary.”

Blair said his 35 years of experience in the sheriff’s office makes him qualified for the position.

“I know the sheriff’s office inside out…it is very important to know the functions, the policies and the procedures within that agency,” he said. “You just can’t step in there to the sheriff’s office and try to run it without any prior knowledge.”

Although Blair said he thinks his 35 years in the sheriff’s office is a reason voters should elect him, DeCastro said he believes it’s a reason his opponent shouldn’t be voted in.

Serving in the office for 35 years means Blair likely has allegiances to “friends in the agency,” DeCastro said.

What the office needs is an outsider, he said.

But Blair said he believes he has sufficiently distanced himself from the sheriff’s office.

“I took no money from any employee at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office for my campaign,” Blair said. “And the reason for that is that I owe no one anything. I think it’s about going back in there and making fair decisions, not based on how much this person donated to my campaign versus another.”

Both candidates agree some things do need to change, but they have different approaches to the change.

DeCastro said the first thing he would do if elected is to straighten out the corruption he sees. Blair wants more officers in the field, he said.

“I think it’s very important that we get more boots on the ground to serve the community, to fight the crime activity that we have,” Blair said.

When voting, it is important to realize that Blair wasn’t nominated as the Republican candidate until late in the race, election officials said. This means Kuhn’s name is still on the ballot. A vote for Kuhn means a vote for Blair. Do not write in Blair’s name on the ballot.

Hana Engroff wrote this story online.

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