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Race For Rensselaer County Sheriff Begins

This fall, voters in Rensselaer County will elect a new sheriff, as sitting Sheriff Jack Mahar has decided not to seek a fourth term.

Sheriff Jack Mahar is leaving office, writing in a letter to county Republican Chairman John Rustin he would not seek re-election because he wanted to retire and spend more time with his family.

Mahar served 28 years with the Troy Police Department and 12 years as sheriff. His decision was unexpected. Several names have come up as potential candidates both retired and active in the law enforcement field, including Hoosick Falls Police Chief Bob Ashe and Gary Gordon, who ran against Mahar four years ago.

Tom Mitchell, Counsel with the New York State Sheriff's Association, describes the modern sheriff's role is law enforcement.   "In most counties, the sheriff is what we call a full-service law enforcement office. The sheriffs have responsibility for an active road patrol division, which responds to 911 complaints. Many sheriffs, but not all, operate the 911 center in their agencies as well. Sheriffs upstate operate the county jail, which typically is the largest operation in the county, in terms of employees and money spent. Most upstate jails now are in the capacity of two to five hundred inmates that are being held, and the sheriff has sole responsibility for that. Sheriffs also have responsibility to provide security for the courts, depending on where they are, sometimes it's for all local courts, sometimes it's just for supreme and county courts. Sheriffs are also actively involved in civil law enforcement, so Sheriffs are called upon to serve civil process and also to enforce orders of the court like judgments, evictions, civil arrests, etc."

In Rensselaer County, undersheriff Patrick Russo is hoping to succeed Mahar.    "I decided to throw my hat in the ring because I've been the undersheriff for 12 years. I like serving the people of Rensselaer County. I think we can do a lot with the Sheriff's department . We can expand the community service area, and I think I'm ready for the job."

Russo, a Troy native, formally announced his intent to seek the Republican nomination in letters sent to Rensselaer County GOP Chairman Rustin and members of the Republican executive committee.    "My goal would be to work well with the legislature's elected officials and expand in some of the areas that we already have started.”

Russo spent 28 years with the Troy Police Department, where he worked as a detective sergeant and served eight years as the head of the narcotics bureau.  "I have an extensive background in drug enforcement, and our drug guys really work hard. We have a good working relationship with all the other agencies, so one of my primary focuses would be drug enforcement throughout the county."

Hoosick Falls Police Chief Bob Ashe announced his candidacy on Facebook. He was not immediately available for comment. Neither Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino nor the Rensselaer County Democratic Committee returned calls for comment in time for broadcast. The county has about 160,000 residents and includes busy riverfront city areas in Troy and Rensselaer as well as large rural stretches.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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