2018 Year in Review: Contentious Summit County Sheriff’s race steals election spotlight (No. 7)
Editors note: The Summit Daily is counting down the top stories and trends of 2018.
As residents from around the state looked on at the outcomes of important ballot initiatives and the gubernatorial race on Election Day this November, Summit County voters came out in record numbers to cast their ballots.
While there were several election issues of note in Summit County this year, including ballot initiative 1A and the race for the Colorado House District 61 seat, perhaps the most interesting race this election season was for the office of Summit County sheriff.
Candidates Jaime FitzSimons and Derek Woodman squared off on the center stage this November, each hoping to outduel the other in a campaign characterized by contention and bad blood.
The two candidates first faced off during the 2016 sheriff’s race, when FitzSimons — who had been appointed sheriff following John Minor’s departure for the Silverthorne Police Department in May 2016 — bested Woodman in a tight 600-vote race.
Woodman made a promise to his constituents that he would return in 2018 to take on FitzSimons again, setting the stage for Summit’s most heated debate.
The two met for a debate in front of a sizeable crowd at the Summit County Community and Senior Center in October, each taking the opportunity to list their accolades in law enforcement and lay out their plans for office once winning.
FitzSimons, a Democrat, focused primarily on the intersection of people with mental illness and law enforcement during his campaign. He pushed for better solutions to keep mentally ill individuals out of the criminal justice system, and urged better treatment for those who do end up in jail or prison. FitzSimons also called for budget increases and the creation of a full-service office at the County Commons in Frisco to address increased call volumes over recent years.
Woodman, a Republican, outlined drug enforcement as the centerpiece of his campaign, calling for the re-establishment of a dedicated drug task force to curb substance abuse in Summit County.
Woodman also voiced a strong desire to change the culture within the office, noting an increased agency among deputies as a means to accomplish the hegemonic shift.
But as Election Day drew closer, the race seemingly became less about the vital law enforcement issues facing the county, and more about each candidate’s personality. Much of the Summit Daily’s coverage revolved around trying to get to the bottom of unsubstantiated claims about the candidates, as well as fact checking assertions made by both camps and members of the public.
FitzSimons’ life before the Summit County Sheriff’s Office was dug up at length, including a dark incident during his time with the Los Angeles Police Department where he was fired — and subsequently rehired following a lawsuit — after an LAPD officer killed herself following an affair with FitzSimons. FitzSimons’ other careers were also dissected following criticism, including his work as an actor and consultant in the film industry, and his short time holding a real estate license.
Woodman was also asked to answer questions from his past, including criticisms regarding a 2016 audit that detailed inconsistencies in the financial ledgers he kept while overseeing the drug task force.
But in addition to skeletons in each candidates’ proverbial closet, rumors and misinformation began to spread like wildfire as the race heated up. Questions were raised concerning a new confidentiality agreement for employees at the sheriff’s office, along with statistics regarding turnover rates and clearance rates.
Woodman went as far as vowing to investigate FitzSimons if he was elected, suggesting he made false statements on his application to the office.
But the vilest moment to emerge from the race was when a misguided individual vandalized one of FitzSimons’ campaign signs, spray-painting a swastika and SS bolts on the sign. In an act of solidarity with FitzSimons campaign, Woodman offered a reward for information that would lead to an arrest.
After the seemingly long and tiresome race for both candidates, voters in the county seemed to respond to FitzSimons platform of improving mental health care, electing the incumbent by a more than 3,000 vote margin.
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