Sheriff’s race in Broward County’s raucous election to watch
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
May 08, 2020, at 6:00 AM
Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony is trying to survive an onslaught of revelations aimed at derailing his candidacy. Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony is trying to survive an onslaught of revelations aimed at derailing his candidacy.
Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony is getting a political baptism by fire in an election that reads like a Hollywood screenplay with racy photos, a secret decades-old killing, and a bitter union fight.
Tony, 41, rode into arguably the most high-profile post in Broward County as an unknown who had the crucial backing of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
In a week came revelations that Tony had shot and killed an 18-year-old man in 1993 when he was a 14-year-old boy living in a rough neighborhood in Philadelphia.
The one-two punch heaped drama into what was already expected to be a blockbuster bout between Tony and his top opponent Scott Israel, the previous sheriff who is trying to resurrect his political career.
Tony vows to keep fighting.
“I knew this was going to be a dirty political season,” Tony told the radio station WIOD on Wednesday. “Everyone warned me how my opponents operated.
Dueling websites paint vastly different pictures of Tony. One website, describes Tony as a man who overcame a traumatic event where he felt his life was in danger and he had no choice but to defend his family. The other website depicts Tony as being untruthful about the decades-old shooting in which he shot Hector Rodriguez five times.
Tony picked a fight with the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, suspending its vocal leader Jeff Bell on April 10.
Those accusations enraged Tony, who accused the union of using Bennett’s death to score political points.
A video surfaced showing Tony yelling at union members mourning Bennett’s death. Tony has lost his cool on other occasions, Jarvis said. Just a few months into the job, Tony clashed with city commissioners in Tamarac who wanted a deputy removed who had been accused of using excessive force.
“You have to be unflappable,” Jarvis said. “You have to let things roll off your back. You need the unions. You need the county commission. You need the cities. You need all these entities to work with you and want to help you to succeed.”
Not long after Bell’s suspension, on April 20, the Broward Sheriffs Office Deputies Association held a vote of no confidence in the sheriff, based on the dispute over the protective gear.
About the shooting 27 years ago, Tony said he fired the shots in self-defense to protect his family, and he was never found guilty of any wrongdoing. But the incident is raising questions about whether Tony was honest on application forms.
Tony never disclosed the killing to the governor, the public, or on his application to become a Coral Springs police officer in 2005. As recently as January, Tony marked on a form that he had never had a criminal record sealed or expunged.
Tony also had to write an apology letter for omitting that he had been charged in 2001 with writing a bad check when he was in college.
Duncan Foster, the retired chief of the Coral Springs Police Department, said he wouldn’t have hired Tony if he had known about the shooting.
As for the revealing photos, Tony’s supporters say they were taken before he became sheriff and have no relevance to his ability to do his job. Israel has denied that he had anything to do with the release of the photos.
Former Sheriff Scott Israel listens to Sheriff Gregory Tony speak during a policy forum for candidates running for Broward County Sheriff in Coconut Creek on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020.
Tony’s main Democratic opponent in the sheriff’s race, Israel, is also tainted because he embodies the agency’s failures during the Parkland school shooting, Jarvis said.
Tony’s life story appealed to DeSantis. When DeSantis introduced him as Israel’s replacement on Jan. 11, 2019, the governor described Tony as someone who made his way from Philadelphia to Florida State University to play football for legendary coach Bobby Bowden.
But in a news conference on Monday, DeSantis distanced himself from Tony when asked about the decades-old shooting. “It’s not like he’s my sheriff,” DeSantis said. “I didn’t even know the guy. It was not like he was a political ally of mine.”
But DeSantis said it likely wouldn’t have changed his mind had he known about it because it was self-defense.
Israel is seeking his third term as sheriff while Tony is attempting to land his first full term. And Al Pollock, a retired BSO colonel, is hoping he can capitalize on his opponents’ baggage. Pollock has raised the most money in the Democratic race besides Israel and Tony.
“Broward County doesn’t deserve this,” he said. “They deserve better from their chief law enforcement officer.”
Four Republicans, three other Democrats, and an independent are also in the race.
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The primary is expected to be one of the year’s most expensive county-level races in Florida. Money continues to pour into Tony’s campaign, largely behind contributions totaling $600,000 so far from a wealthy super-donor, financier S.
Running a competitive race for Broward sheriff could require spending approaching $1 million, said Cynthia Busch, chairwoman of the Broward Democratic Party, who is neutral in the contest because of her party position.