The ballot counting is not quite over but the result is now certain: Errol Toulon Jr. will be the new sheriff in Suffolk County.
Congratulations to Toulon, who will be the first black countywide elected official on Long Island, other than a judge. Now he must make a different kind of history. Come January, he needs to make a clean break from the political power brokers who delivered his victory. He must serve only the interests of the people of Suffolk.
That might not be easy, given the recent history of the sheriff’s office and the troubling way Toulon came into the position, but it is utterly necessary.
Toulon was a late nominee, plucked by Suffolk Democratic Party leader Richard Schaffer after the collapse of a convoluted plan hatched with former Conservative Party chairman Edward Walsh. Walsh wanted GOP State Sen. Phil Boyle, who had no law enforcement experience, to replace incumbent sheriff and Conservative Party member Vincent DeMarco. That’s because DeMarco supplied the evidence that led to the federal corruption conviction of Walsh, a former corrections lieutenant who influenced assignments, promotions and overtime at the county jail. But Stony Brook University Assistant Police Chief Lawrence Zacarese unexpectedly upended Boyle in the GOP primary as voters rightly rejected the manipulation and backroom dealing. Schaffer, who had been ready to give his party’s line to Boyle, then maneuvered to get Toulon on the ballot. Conservative and Independence party backing quickly followed.
We have no quarrel with Toulon’s paper credentials. He served 25 years in New York City’s Department of Correction. But he must match his qualifications with a resolve to do the right thing regardless of his ties, old and new, to party bosses. Toulon has been appointed by Democrats to two Suffolk positions. At least one family member has gotten jobs through his party connections. After he resigned in January as a deputy commissioner on Rikers Island, Toulon asked Schaffer for a job. Now he has one. But now he must cut those strings.
Toulon’s stated priorities — working on gang violence and the opioid epidemic, improving programs for those leaving the county jail and re-entering society — are solid. But he would be wise to also adopt some Zacarese proposals — like being willing to reassign people in patronage positions and making merit the standard for assignments, promotions and overtime. These would be strong signals to send to a department that needs a culture change. And they would show that indeed there is a new sheriff in town who is his own boss.
Toulon’s mission mirrors that of Tim Sini, the newly elected district attorney — run an independent, effective office that puts criminal justice ahead of politics. Toulon must stand tall and help deliver Suffolk from the swamp it has been mired in for years.