Fitzgerald and Maddox pursue campaigns for county Sheriff
● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
The nearly 90 deputies that make up the Chester County Sheriff’s Office provide a substantial level of services, including the apprehension of individuals with outstanding warrants; providing transports to prisoners; providing security for the Chester County Courthouse, the county government building and the building where the county Commissioners are housed; participating in the county’s civil and criminal services process; conducting Sheriff’s sales of real estate property; and appearing regularly at community events – often with the department’s K-9 unit.
For the past two decades, Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh has provided direction for her office in all of these capacities, and when she announced that she would not seek reelection for a sixth term, it opened up an opportunity for several candidates to potentially replace her. As local campaigns wind down to the Nov. 5 election, the names of two candidates – Republican Jim Fitzgerald and Democrat Fredda Maddox – will be listed in voting booths.
Recently, the Chester County Press spoke with Fitzgerald and Maddox about their respective campaigns and their aspirations for the job, should they become the next Chester County Sheriff.
Jim Fitzgerald, Republican
As he entered the race for Chester County Sheriff, Jim Fitzgerald brought with him one of the most diverse and impressive resumes of any candidate in the recent memory of county politics. During a 40-year career, Fitzgerald served active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps for 10 years and was a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 26 years, where he was involved in counter-terrorism investigations, domestic terrorism, undercover operations and law enforcement activities.
For a decade, he led flanks of Marines. As an FBI agent, he led small and large teams of investigators on cases that also involved anywhere from 20 to hundreds of police departments. Somewhere in between, he spent 15 years as a coach, commissioner and referee with the West Chester United Soccer Club.
As he moves his campaign forward in the final weeks before the Nov. 5 election, Fitzgerald, now retired from the FBI, sees the position he aims to assume next January as a perfect fit to use his training and experience to achieve the goal of doing the office’s primary job: To keep Chester County safe.
“It’s appropriate for a sheriff to have the most trained people he can have, because the truth is that today’s sheriff is tomorrow’s police officer,” Fitzgerald said. “In many ways, the Sheriff’s Office is contributing to the overall law enforcement effort in the county.”
Achieving that goal, Fitzgerald said, must involve being able to retain deputy sheriffs for a long enough period of time so that the department can provide a stable personnel, rather than a revolving door of law enforcement officials. It begins with finding the resources to pay deputy sheriffs a competitive salary, he said.
“Deputy sheriffs are grossly underpaid, which significantly compromises safety and security,” Fitzgerald said. “If we are unwilling to pay reasonable wages, then we will not be able to keep them for long. I can train them and make them very good at what they do, but as soon as they have an opportunity to make twice what they make now, they will leave. They have wives, families and kids, and it makes no sense for them to stay.
“Every time they leave, we need to start back at square one.”
Fitzgerald said he will also address other top priorities if he’s elected, which will include conducting a review – and possible updating -- of the department’s policies and procedures, “to make sure the department is in compliance with current law, and to ensure to the maximum extent that the department is mitigating risk,” he said. “The goal here will be to contribute collaboratively to the overall law enforcement of the county, without overstepping our bounds and remaining a part of the team.”
Ultimately, he would like to see the county fund the Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit.
“Every police chief I’ve spoken to has sung the praises of the contributions that the dogs make, and most police do not have the manpower or the budget or perhaps the patience of maintaining a K-9 unit,” he said. “It has been my experience that there are a lot of special events that should have our K-9 patrol out there in front of the public.
“The problem is a budgetary challenge – deputy sheriffs aren’t paid to work weekend, and when do most of these events occur? On the weekend.”
If elected, Fitzgerald will enter the office and get an advance information about the operation, and its personnel, but doesn’t advocate an entire top to bottom remake of the department.
“Trying to institute tons of change all at once is not an effective technique and I don’t feel a burning desire to put my mark on the office,” he said. “My job is to conduct the mission of the office.
“The day after the election, I will not work for one party or the other,” he added. “Rather, I will work for the 500,000 people (who live in Chester County). Because I’m not a politician, I tell people that I don’t want their vote any way I can get. I tell them I want their vote because they have thought about their vote and have determined in their best judgement that I am the most qualified candidate for the job.”
Fredda Maddox, Democrat
When West Chester attorney Fredda Maddox ran unsuccessfully to serve on the Court of Common Pleas in 2011, the tenor of county politics at the time was that the Democratic Party hid in the lengthy shadows that the Republican Party in Chester County gave off.
It had been that way for 200 years.
Now, as she campaigns to replace Republican Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh for Chester County Sheriff, she does so on the wings of a changing political tide in the county, one that has shifted dramatically and brought for Democrats to county seats, seen the election of Chrissy Houlahan and Christina Sappey and is now witnessing the formidable campaign of Deb Ryan for District Attorney.
In the remaining days that lead to the Nov. 5 election, Maddox feels the wind blowing in her favor.
“The Democratic Party is completely energized,” she said. “I can certainly see a vast change in energy from 2011 to what I see now. The energy is unreal. I was so used to seeing handfuls of people at Democratic events, and now, they are standing in the hallways.”
It’s not just the changing course of county politics that Maddox sees in her favor. In addition to being a practicing attorney for the past 20 years, she was one of the first women to serve as a Pennsylvania State Trooper in the county, and was a narcotics agent for the Bureau of Narcotics in the Pa. office of Attorney General, where she also served in the Bureau of Criminal Investigations as a Special Agent.
While the hardened skills Maddox has learned throughout her career in law, criminal investigations and law enforcement will lend themselves to the requirements of county Sheriff, there is another part of the job that has its roots in simple connections.
“Given my background, not only will it be an honor to work with law enforcement, to work with the judges and to make sure that the courthouse continues to safe, I want to use my new position to help dispel the myth that the Sheriff's Office is about guns and badges,” Maddox said. “I want to expand the Sheriff’s Office to allow for community building, to make visits to nursing homes and schools, as well as to continue to work with law enforcement.”
For Maddox, the challenge of being the county’s new Sheriff will be to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the often underserved communities in the county, many of whom she has represented as a public defender. Maddox sees a major responsibility of the office as beginning conversations that she feels have been muted for too long. In 2016, during a time that saw the deaths of several African-American men at the hands of police in America, she contacted District Attorney Tom Hogan and several other leaders, calling for solutions.
“I said, ‘Let's get beyond black and blue,” Maddox said. “Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. What can we do to get beyond that? How can we utilize some of the deputies to help mentor young people?”
Beyond her lengthy resume, Maddox is, by her own definition, “a team player and a consensus builder” who said that if elected, she will work as an advocate for all citizens, especially those who lack access, resources and opportunity.
“You have people of color who are afraid to call the police when crime happens in their community. I tell them the only person you can call is the police,” she said. “I tell them that they need the police, and the police need Latino, black and all people in the community to pick up that phone and tell them what’s going on. That’s the only way we can work together through collaboration to solve crimes. We can’t live in isolation. We all need each other.”
Although she is running as a Democrat, Maddox is running in name only, and that her role as sheriff will be to serve her department and the community, regardless of party affiliation.
“I am neither red nor blue, but purple,” she said. “It is unfortunate in this country that you have to run under a party. I put people, in many instances, above party. When you wear a law enforcement uniform, you are there to serve the people.”
Maddox may be knocking on doors during a different political climate in Chester County, but no matter the shifting of political winds, she is engaged in the process.
“When I was just kicking off my campaign for the Court of County Pleas in 2011, I went to my father and told him that people were telling me that I was a Democrat and this is Chester County, not Philadelphia, and that I have no chance to win,” Maddox said. “He looked at me and said that I may not have a great chance of winning, but the moment I put my hat into this ring, I gave myself a fifty percent chance of winning.
“’Before you ran, you had no chance,’ he told me. ‘You take the chance that you’ve been given, and you give it everything you’ve got.’”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.