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Pima County Sheriff Race: Nanos' first campaign may be his most challenging

Posted at 12:47 PM, Oct 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-27 21:13:53-04

The race for Pima County Sheriff features two candidates with decades of experience wearing the badge.
Incumbent sheriff, Democrat Chris Nanos, is running for the first time after he was appointed sheriff last year when Clarence Dupnik resigned.

He's pushing back against claims from a challenger, Republican Mark Napier, who says the department is rife with cronyism, and is bloated with too many top-level deputies, making too much money.

This is the first time Nanos has run for office and it may be one of the toughest races in the state. 

“Well this campaign is not fun,” Nanos said when asked about defending his office and record from accusations of cronyism and corruption in the wake of an FBI investigation.

Earlier this month the chief deputy, Chris Radtke, was indicted for illegal use of RICO funds, money taken from criminals supposed to be used to fight or prevent crime.

Napier says the department needs new, outside leadership, “I think everyone can see it has come to the point they need a cultural reset button.”

Nanos strongly denies any wrongdoing and called a press conference the same week Radtke was indicted in which Nanos accused his political opponents of lobbing false accusations at him in the final weeks before Election Day.

“I’ve been a cop for 40 plus years I’ve never been accused of corruption or cronyism, whatever the things are he's throwing at me and for another cop to say that, really, just off of rumor, there's no fact behind it,  that's disappointing and its hurtful,” Nanos said.

“There is a half a million dollars gone missing that’s a big deal,” Napier said.  “And you should be accountable to that.”

Nanos was appointed sheriff in 2015 after Clarence Dupnik resigned after 35 years in office. He says that while he enjoys his job, he rejects the notion that he is now a politician. “I hope that four years from now when I win this election, I hope 4 years from now you'll be able to come back and say I’m still not a politician.”

Nanos began his law enforcement career in El Paso. Later, he got a job at the Pima County Jail, and worked his way up in the department.

Nanos says in his 14 months in office he's bolstered programs to help kids saying improving high school graduation rates will help keep kids out of jail.

“You can sit back and say it’s all about crime for the sheriff but the reality is it's more than that: it deals with social ills: homelessness, substance abuse, mental ill, all of those occur at my jail. And in high numbers.”

Napier was a Tucson police officer for 28 years. He holds a master’s degree from Boston University, where he now oversees criminal justice curriculum. He ran for sheriff in 2012 and lost.
He calls himself a social justice candidate: he says there are long-standing undeniable racial and socioeconomic disparities that are undeniable.

“Political leaders, especially in law enforcement, have a responsibility to address those things. Not to deny their existence or overblow their existence, but really look at what the root causes are.”

Voters haven't seen the two men together: Nanos refuses to debate Napier, saying he doesn't believe Napier has a body of work worth debating a claim Napier rejects, “If Hillary can debate Trump, Nanos can debate Mark.”