Former Greece Police Chief Todd Baxter was a Republican until May, when he switched his allegiances and joined the Democratic Party to run for Monroe County Sheriff against incumbent Patrick O’Flynn. The switch paid off, as Baxter, with 57 percent of the vote, beat O’Flynn, and denied the incumbent sheriff a fifth term.
Baxter, a former Rochester police officer, left his post as executive director of the Veterans Outreach Center in order to run. When announcing his candidacy in May, he noted that much of his philosophy wouldn’t change, even though his party affiliation would.
“I believe in things that cross party lines,” Baxter said. “If you think about it, safety of the community crosses party lines, helping young people who might be in positions that aren’t very fruitful or helpful for them as they move forward; alternatives to incarceration, why are we putting young kids in jail if we don’t have to, those are all things that cross party lines, so my values haven’t changed.”
One of the key issues that Baxter will face right away is the opioid epidemic in the region. Baxter criticized O’Flynn and county government for waiting until September to release the number of deaths that occurred in 2016 that were related to opioids. The numbers from the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office showed that Monroe County had 169 opioid-related deaths in 2016, up from 69 in 2015.
"Quite clearly, the sheriff stated that he jumped into the opioid epidemic with both feet,” Baxter said at the Voice of the Voter debate held by WXXI, 13WHAM, and the Democrat and Chronicle. “We had 169 deaths last year, folks. That’s not both feet. If it is, it’s failure."
The sheriff’s race became contentious after the debate held in late October. In the week leading up to Election Day, a flyer targeting Baxter and his support of President Donald Trump was being mailed to Democrats, urging voters to write in Gary Pudup’s name on the ballot and visit the website of Rochester For All, a political action committee started by former mayoral candidate Rachel Barnhart. Pudup and Barnhart have said they aren’t responsible for the flyers and have filed complaints with the New York State Board of Elections and the United States Postal Inspector.
Video by WXXI's Austin Radford