Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez took the first step toward her goal of being re-elected this fall with a win Tuesday, March 4, in the Democratic Primary.
Valdez, the first woman, the first Latina and the first lesbian to ever win the county’s top law enforcement office, pulled in 50.86 percent of the primary vote to escape a runoff, despite having three challengers in the race for the party’s nomination.
Valdez said Wednesday, March 5 that winning the nomination outright "gives me a great boost."
"Now I am looking forward to the second phase of this election," Valdez said. "Now we work to continue the progress we’ve made and we continue to work toward November. But we also want to try and unite the Democratic Party again.
"Unfortunately, we had to go against each other for awhile. But now we can work toward bringing the party back together again. … We all made the statement during the campaign that we would support whoever the nominee was. My hope now is that that actually happens," she said.
Valdez’s closest contender was Roy H. Williams Jr., one of two African-American candidates in the primary. Williams received 25.18 percent of the vote.
Sam Allen, the other African-American candidate, received 12.47 percent, followed by Peter "Pete" Schulte with 11.5 percent.
Valdez now has to wait until April 8 to find out whom she will face in the November general election, since former Dallas County Sheriff Jim Bowles and former Irving Police Chief Lowell Cannaday have advanced to a runoff for the Republican nomination.
Bowles had been sheriff for nearly 20 years when he lost the 2004 Republican Primary to Danny Chandler amid allegations of corruption in Bowles’ department. Valdez defeated Chandler in the general election by a margin of 51 percent to 49 percent, or about 18,000 votes.
Bowles got 36 percent of the vote in this week’s primary, and Cannaday pulled in 41 percent. The remaining votes were split between Cockrell Hill Police Chief Catherine Smit with 12.39 percent and Charlie Richmond, a lieutenant with the Mesquite Police Department, with 10.3 percent.
Jesse Garcia, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, called Valdez’s outright victory in the primary this week "a delicious win."
Stonewall Democrats of Dallas had endorsed Valdez in the race, and Garcia praised her increasingly savvy approach to campaigning.
"She is finally becoming the political machine she needs to be," Garcia said. "She is out of that shell now and is really able to connect with people. She’s polished, and she can win in November. She’s finally got it."
Valdez said having opponents in the primary didn’t upset her. But she was bothered when her opponents tried to use what she called outdated information against her.
"If you are the person in the front, there will always be someone there, nipping at your behind, trying to kick you in the back. That’s just the way it is," she said. "But it did bother me that people were not really educated on what they were talking about. They did not have the correct information, and they tried to use negative newspaper headlines from a year or more before against me."
Valdez has most frequently been criticized for ongoing problems at the Dallas County jail, most of which she inherited from her predecessor. But, the sheriff said, most of those criticisms are based on old news.
"We haven’t been overcrowded at the jail since about March of last year. And they talked about the jail being understaffed and problems with the phones at intake. But we haven’t had those problems in a long time," she said. "I had to constantly help them get their facts correct. If they had been more informed about what is actually going on in the jail, they would have found that a lot of progress has been made. A lot of good things have happened, and we continue to make even more progress."
Both Garcia and Valdez’s campaign manager, Kirk McPike, said that avoiding a runoff in the Democratic Primary puts Valdez in a better position going into the November general election.
"She had three opponents, so it is amazing that she won without a runoff," Garcia said, noting that the Dallas Morning News had endorsed Schulte and has frequently run articles critical of Valdez and her administration.
"The Dallas Morning News was running negative articles about Lupe weekly, almost daily sometimes. If they ever did run something positive about her, it was buried somewhere way in the back of the paper," he said. "I am just so proud that Lupe was able to do this. It is such a confidence builder for her, and it builds a lot of momentum for her going into the general election."
McPike said Valdez’s campaign had been "hopeful and fairly confident" the incumbent would win the primary outright.
"We were prepared for a runoff, but we worked as hard as we could to avoid it," McPike continued. "Now, for the next four to five weeks, we are going to be raising money for the general election. We will be preparing strategies and building coalitions. But the Republicans have to spend the next four or five weeks fighting for the nomination.
"Whoever the nominee will be eventually, he is still stuck talking to Dallas’ shrinking Republican base. The general election is right around the corner, and that is not a good place to be in now," McPike continued. "While the Republicans are still fighting each other, we are going to be having this conversation about the sheriff’s true record of success with a much broader Dallas community. We are looking forward to getting the truth about what she has accomplished out to the largest audience possible."
Valdez again stressed the importance of having a united Democratic front going into the general election, and she praised her campaign staff and her supporters for making her win possible.
"We had three opponents, but we worked three times as hard," Valdez said. "The team worked wonderfully together. No candidate wins by themselves, and the support I got from the community was tremendous."
Valdez said she was grateful for the support she got from the LGBT community, as well as from the African-American and Hispanic communities and from women.
"I couldn’t have done it without the support of every single one of those communities. It would have been impossible to win without their support. But because I have these groups that support me, I have groups that oppose me for the same reasons.
"Still, I think the Dallas County voters can see us moving forward, and they want to continue to see us move in that direction. I think the voters of Dallas County are wiser than to let those things affect them."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 7, 2008