Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell won her position’s Democratic primary Tuesday night, defeating her opponent by over 11,000 votes.
Darnell received 18,781 votes in the county primary, or 71.85 percent of the total vote. Zac Zedalis, Darnell’s primary opponent and political rival, received 7,358 votes (28.15 percent). Darnell will now face Republican nominee Jack Jacobs in the general election on Nov. 8.
After briefly considering retirement, Darnell, who was first elected sheriff in 2006, said she decided to run for a third term because she believes she is the most qualified candidate, and that it isn’t time for new leadership in the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.
“Accomplishments count,” Darnell said. “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and so if you look at the successes, the expectations, the achievements, the accomplishments, I think that speaks for itself that the agency’s well positioned for a good future.”
When former Deputy Zac Zedalis found out Darnell had won, he was waiting for the results at his mother’s home in Alachua. His family and close friends surrounded him.
“I’m completely humbled by all the support that we did have,” Zedalis said. “We did the best we possibly could, we ran a good campaign.”
Debbie Martinez, who has worked on her campaign, said she thinks Darnell — her friend since high school — is the best candidate for the job.
“She’s qualified, she’s honest, and she’s in touch with the people,” she said. “We’re very fortunate that she’s willing to continue to want to serve as our sheriff.”
Darnell highlighted her department’s recent focus on strengthening the connections between the ACSO and the broader Alachua County community. In an attempt to fix what she called, “a very unfortunate increase in distrust of law enforcement” nationwide, Darnell said that her first priority if she is re-elected will be to continue the department’s Youth Dialogue Program and other community-oriented policing initiatives.
Scott Austin, Darnell’s campaign manager, said he’s confident in Darnell’s ability to win in November. Republican Jack Jacobs is a former Alachua County Sherriff’s Office lieutenant, in the November general election.
“I can’t think of anybody who is a better public servant in this county, and really in this country,” he said. “We’ve got work to do, but we’ve got a couple days of rest.”
For now, Darnell was happy to simply celebrate her win, and thank her friends and volunteers for their support. “It’s not one star in the sky tonight,” she said, “it’s many stars.”
In February, Darnell fired Zedalis along with his wife at the time, Sergeant Kathleen Zedalis, following an internal investigation conducted over a domestic dispute. Zedalis and his wife are now separated, though not officially divorced.
Zedalis called his termination a “political move” by the sheriff. “She saw me as a threat and so she went ahead and took care of that threat,” he said. Darnell has denied that it was political.
Zedalis ran on a platform that focused on a community-oriented approach to policing, while Darnell supported increasing awareness of the role mental health plays in crime.
“Normally an incumbent sheriff doesn’t have somebody from inside the agency challenge them,” Darnell said. “I just put the truth put there, what has been disconcerting is some of the mistruths that has been put out there by my opponent. I don’t choose to do negative campaigning. I don’t think that works.”
Zedalis said he has job offers lined up both in town and outside of the county in law enforcement, though he didn’t specify what they are.
“Right now I think the focus is to get back to work and getting back to doing something I really enjoy,” Zedalis said.