By Raina Lipsitz, The New Republic | photo by KC Kratt
Erie County Sheriff and Trump superfan Timothy B. Howard should be as notorious as Joe Arpaio, the famously racist Republican sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, whom Howard sees as a kindred spirit. Yet few outside of Western New York have ever heard of Howard. That’s not for want of headline fodder: Thirty-one people have died in Erie County jails since his appointment, most as a result of suicide or medical neglect. Many more have attempted suicide.
Howard’s preferred successor is John Garcia, who won the Republican primary. Democratic nominee Kim Beaty and independent candidate Ted DiNoto are also vying to replace Howard. DiNoto’s presence in the race could help Beaty by fracturing the non-Democratic vote. Karen Healy-Case, who was running on the Conservative Party line, shocked many by announcing on October 12 that she was suspending her campaign and backing Beaty. She’ll still appear on the line but is no longer actively campaigning.
Erin Heaney, national director of Showing Up for Racial Justice, or SURJ, a group that organizes in majority-white communities to bring more white people into anti-racist movements and has endorsed Kim Beaty, said SURJ is supporting Beaty for a number of reasons.
“We see the sheriff’s office as really critically important in advancing a whole bunch of reforms and changes in the criminal legal system in the region,” she said. Noting the progressive focus on district attorney’s races, she added that sheriff’s races have been overlooked throughout the country, even though sheriffs “control so much that has to do with mass incarceration.” SURJ believes Beaty will hold violent officers accountable and work with the state to implement reforms that the state Department of Corrections has said are needed.
“We don’t think that one candidate alone is going to save us,” Heaney said, “but we do think that we have a shot at advancing a much more progressive agenda on a number of issues when Kim’s in office.… We want Kim to be the one who’s driving the decision-making because we think she’s much more likely than John Garcia to listen to the needs of people who are more directly impacted.”