Not much introduction is needed for what has been one of the most publicized races in some time, for better or worse. Incumbent Thomas Beilein is being challenged by Deputy Brian Grear for the office of Niagara County Sheriff. The race has been interesting to say the least. Grear is a fresh face, working with former Sheriff Anthony Villella as his campaign manager. As sheriff since 1993, Beilein has been here before and is not a newcomer when it comes to highly contested races. In the end, we hope both men can put their differences aside and work together to keep the county safe.

It’s impossible to tell how the vote will end up, but if political yard signs are any indication of votes, Beilein may have his work cut out for him.

We’re not letting signs sway our opinion, however. We sat down with the candidates to get a feel for what each has to offer. Here’s what we think.

Thomas Beilein: Beilein has experience in his corner, a major asset that we realize is afforded to long-time incumbents, but his department is far from perfect. While he’s proud of centralized dispatch, the handling of the Local 91 investigations and the revenue he has generated at the jail, there have been incidents during his administration that do not make anyone proud. The mishandling of an elderly Royalton farmer caught up in a land dispute with a deputy was shameful and it ended up costing the taxpayers a nice chunk of change in a lawsuit settlement.

Beilein favors centralized dispatch and North Tonawanda Mayor David Burgio says the move has saved his city $250,000 on the fire dispatch side alone. There may be snags in the early going when a new party joins central, but it seems to us that fire and police unions may be opposed to it for more selfish reasons. While Beilein can be a little extravagant in his budget requests, his support for eliminating duplication of services is helpful in these leaner budget times.

One of Grear’s biggest complaints about Beilein is that he doesn’t interact with workers at the department. Beilein admits he’s not “warm and fuzzy” but he says he’s accessible to anyone who needs to see him. Although being a nice guy and chatting with employees on a daily basis might be nice, we’re not sure it’s necessary to run a sheriff’s department.

Brian Grear: We give Grear credit for the effort he has put into this campaign. We like his work ethic and his aggressiveness, but we can’t get around the fact that he seems unprepared for the job. Beilein certainly has done his fair share of negative campaigning, but he also has a record to stand on. Grear needed to do more to tell people why he was a good candidate and less about why Beilein was a bad candidate.

Both men played a little loose with the facts in their attacks on one another. Grear’s mistakes seem to have been made because of a lack of knowledge on the issues.

Grear has no supervisory experience and we think he should try walking before he runs. His choice of former Sheriff Anthony Villella as a spokesman for debates sent a poor message that he wasn’t capable of speaking for himself.

Grear danced around the issue of centralized dispatch, saying he wouldn’t force the idea down the throats of other departments. The fact is the decision will be made by city leaders with input from the unions. If the Lockport Common Council came to Grear and said the city wanted in, but the police or fire union opposed the move, what would he do? We’re not sure.

We choose: Beilein. He’s got years of experience, a number of accomplishments and ideas that can lead the county forward. He’s said he would serve out another full term, contrary to rumors he’ll pack it in after one year. Barring unforeseen circumstances, we’re holding the sheriff to his promise to us and, more importantly, the voters who put him there.

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