LUBEC – George Bunker, if he were elected sheriff of Washington County, would place a priority on fostering honesty among the deputies.
Donnie Smith, if he were elected sheriff, would ask deputies to uphold physical fitness standards and undergo random drug testing.
Bunker, if elected on Nov. 7, would demand that deputies’ paperwork be completed in a timely manner and that the evidence locker be kept in better order.
Smith, if he gets the job, would set up a community advisory committee that keeps the department in touch with the people of the county.
The two men – Democrat Bunker of Baileyville and independent Smith of Lubec – shared both insights and wit Wednesday evening during the first debate among candidates for the sheriff’s position.
Held in the Lubec town office, the event drew 50 people plus a local television audience on Quoddy TV, the local-access cable station that reaches from Eastport to Lubec to Machias.
Quoddy TV organized the debate, and all three sheriff’s candidates were invited. Rodney Merritt of East Machias, the Republican candidate, did not attend, but gave word earlier Wednesday that he was looking forward to joining the two others in a similar forum Oct. 19 at the University of Maine at Machias.
Arthur Glidden, a Lubec selectman, served as moderator.
Four others were panelists – David Burns of Whiting, a former state trooper; Lewis Pinkham of Milbridge, his town’s manager and chief of police; John Leighton of Pembroke, a selectman there; and Jim Clark of Machiasport, a tax assessor.
Clark was a last-minute replacement for Linda Pagels, the city manager in Calais who called on Wednesday to cancel.
For two hours the two men traded remarks on myriad issues, the plague of drugs, and crimes against children remaining foremost.
Pinkham asked if either supported a proposed methadone clinic coming to the western end of the county. Bunker said yes; Smith said no.
Burns asked whether there was anything in their backgrounds that, if it became public, might diminish or compromise their ability to be sheriff.
Smith said no; Bunker gave an answer that broke the initial tension of the evening.
“Everything that I’ve done wrong, what happened with [former sheriff and current Washington County commissioner] John Crowley and I, I’ve already made all public,” Bunker said, explaining why he resigned 11 years ago as a deputy in the department.
“And that went on for two or three years.”
He was referring to his lawsuit against the county, for which he received a $25,000 settlement. From there he went on to work as a private investigator and a state legislator for eight years.
“I didn’t go too far from criminal justice,” he said.
Clark asked the men why they would make good leaders. The military, both responded.
Smith, who grew up in Machiasport and joined the Marines at age 18, was a platoon leader in Vietnam at 19.
“I learned quickly that if you don’t follow the chain of command, people die,” he said. “That was one of the hardest leadership experiences I ever had.”
He stopped for a breath. “In fact, it’s a little hard to talk about.”
Bunker referred to his eight years in the Navy. “I had 32 men I was personally responsible for,” he said.
But it has been the men’s experiences with the county’s children that continue to teach them lessons about Washington County today. Bunker started the D.A.R.E. anti-drug program among sheriff’s deputies. Smith spent four years in the hallways of 25 schools as a resource officer.
Both talked about ways they could make the Washington County Sheriff’s Department more accessible to residents of all ages and more efficient for taxpayers.
Smith closed with a promise to make the county “the best, safest place to live and raise a family.”
Bunker ended with the question that everyone has been afraid to ask him since the start of his campaign last spring. He removed his baseball cap to reveal no hair. He lost it after six weeks of chemotherapy in Boston last summer.
“The rumor is that I am going to die any week now,” he said. “I do have cancer, but it’s a treatable cancer.
“God love you, but I think my presence here shows that things are going well with me. If you think I can’t do the job, tell me today. I just want to change the misperception that they might have to put a tombstone up for me soon. That’s not the case.”
To that, the crowd stood with applause, and the debate was done.