Meck County Sheriff Candidates Hope For Strong Turnout

Updated:

MECKLENBURG CO., N.C.,None — Chipp Bailey has been Mecklenburg County's sheriff for two years, but Tuesday will mark the first time his name appears on a ballot.

Bailey was appointed sheriff after an ugly political fight within the Democratic Party, when Jim Pendergraph stepped down in the middle of his term. In Tuesday's primary, though, Bailey is being challenged by Antoine Ensley, a former Charlotte Mecklenburg police sergeant.

"I just think it's time for some change," Ensley said.

Ensley spent a year and a half as a police chief in Fletcher, N.C., and then ran a juvenile justice facility in Norfolk, Va. Two years ago, Ensley moved back to Charlotte as an operations executive with Target.

Ensley said his past positions have provided him with solid experience, despite the fact that the department he ran in Fletcher was much smaller than Mecklenburg County's.

"Leadership is leadership is leadership," he said.

Bailey, however, thinks the position requires more.

"Fourteen hundred employees and a $100 million budget -- I can't imagine somebody trying to do that without some knowledge of what's going on," he said.

Bailey said his work release and drug programs are helping keep offenders from repeating their crimes.

Ensley said he's a visionary who will provide measurable results.

But as much as the race is about budgets and programs, another issue has surfaced that has brought back memories of elections past.

Nick Mackey beat Bailey two years ago in the special Democratic election to replace Pendergraph after he stepped down, but the election results were thrown out after state party leaders decided Mackey broke rules.

Last week, Pendergraph wrote in an e-mail that Ensley is "a Mackey clone."

Ensley said the accusation is untrue.

"He didn't recruit me," he said. "He didn't encourage me to run. The fact is, I've known him for over 20 years and he is a friend, but he has nothing to do with my campaign."

Bailey said he has doubts about that, but is more concerned with voter apathy.

"If the unaffiliated don't vote in the Democratic primary -- if the Democrats don't go out and vote in the Democratic primary -- then anything can happen," Bailey said.

Michael Dickerson, Mecklenburg County's election director, predicts a low turnout Tuesday. He said he expects between 10 percent and 15 percent of voters will go to the polls.