Ron Speakman, Mike Chapman and Verne Dickerson at April 26 debate
I have a full plate today so no full “report” on last night’s debate, but will put down some random thoughts below and invite all who are interested to comment. (Photos by Matt Vecchio added at bottom of post).

Main impression: All three candidates – Ron Speakman, Mike Chapman and Verne Dickerson – presented themselves well, spoke cogently, and provided a couple hours of interesting, civil discussion before a packed conference room. I don’t know how many people but it was probably in the neighborhood of 100+ with standing room only … the photos may give a better idea. Anyway, it was the best-attended and most substantive local political event not conducted under party auspices in at least a couple years (based on personal experience). Nice work by the organizers!

Impressions of the candidates – in the order they were sitting:

Ron Speakman: Best public speaker of the three; he was the only one who had actual applause lines. He made some good points about management at the Sheriff’s Office – why DO they have so many deputies manning the metal detector? One of his challenges was to tell how his extensive stretch of time in the business world would translate to being a good sheriff, and I think he did that well by referring to the inherent, unique difficulties of being at the top of any large organization. His proposed “self-deportation” solution to illegal alien crime is unique and has rightfully received a good amount of discussion. OPPORTUNITY FOR IMPROVEMENT: Prior to the debate, I had heard from people who follow law enforcement issues that Ron’s numbers regarding the increases in various types of crime in Loudoun County may need to be fine tuned. He referenced a fair amount of data and I could not judge how much of it was accurate – he was corrected on one point by one of the other candidates. He seems to be a very clear-thinking individual and I would like to feel certain that his information has been double-checked.

Mike Chapman: One of his strongest arguments is the importance of recent service in law enforcement and experience in various levels from local to international, and he made it well; in the answers to a few questions he pointed out innovations of the past ten years that would come into play if he was the sheriff and practices he had seen elsewhere that could apply here. His closing statement, delivered without notes, was by far the strongest. As my neighbor noted, “he seems the most confident.” Because of my caveat regarding the next candidate, Mike seems to be the one who could best walk into the Sheriff’s Office and speak the same language as the deputies, and he noted he would look to promote from within. OPPORTUNITY FOR IMPROVEMENT: Sometimes Mike gives the appearance of having a clearer idea of what he wants to do than he is able to communicate, and sometimes when the question only requires a 10 second answer he will try not to waste the rest of the allotted time. Plenty of public speakers do this, and they don’t need to, in my opinion; there are probably coaches who say otherwise. Most of his law enforcement experience is beyond the local level which connotes both positives and negatives.

Verne Dickerson: On the difficult question of “what would you do to address youth crime?” he was the only one who had a really substantive answer – involving new programs, one in collaboration with retired athletes. Though soft-spoken, Verne projects that he knows what he is talking about, has a quiet confidence that I would imagine deputies would pick up on – he seems like a reticent public speaker but when he speaks he is articulate and makes perfect sense. For every question his response indicated he was competent to handle that issue. OPPORTUNITY FOR IMPROVEMENT: He needs to explain exactly what the deal is with Mark Davis (candidate who dropped out and is now supporting Verne, and brings the “recent, local experience” element). Unless I am missing something, I think Verne still has to spell out whatever the position is that Mark will hold, because otherwise the combining of resumes is confusing. As with Mike Chapman, Verne has to really explain the positive aspects of bringing experience primarily from other levels – in Verne’s case, FBI.

Photos of the individual candidates are by Loudoun County’s own renaissance man, Matt Vecchio of the Loudoun Times Mirror. Thanks, Matt!

Verne Dickerson, photo by Matt Vecchio

Ron Speakman, photo by Matt Vecchio

Mike Chapman, photo by Matt Vecchio