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Walt McNeil Wins Four-Way Race For Leon County Sheriff

Walt McNeil's facebook page

In the four-way Leon County Sheriff’s race, Democrat Walt McNeil has unseated incumbent Mike Wood.

By 9:30 Tuesday night, most precincts had reported that Walt McNeil won by 45-percent of the vote against his other opponents.

“Well, I’ve gotten calls from the other two candidates in the race, Mike Wood—who’s the incumbent Sheriff and from Charlie Strickland, and they both have basically said, they’re conceding…that I’ve won the election,” said McNeil, at the time.

And, McNeil—who’s had more than 35 years in law enforcement—says he’s really excited to start this new chapter as Leon County’s Sheriff.

“And, I’m just elated that the voters of Leon County have seen my platform and the issues that I’ve talked about, and they have endorsed with their vote, the initiative that we will put together to hopefully turn the crime problems around and improve the quality of life for the citizens of Leon County,” he added. “That starts first with getting with our rank and file at the Leon County Sheriff’s office and talking with our deputies and our staff and then, meeting with the people in our community and then seeing if we can bridge the gaps that may exist between the Sheriff’s department and the community. The bottom line is we’ve got to do a better job in terms of making sure we keep our community safe, and that’s something I ran on and it’s something I will hold myself accountable to.”

Both Mike Wood—the incumbent—and Charlie Strickland—the Republican in the race—received about 24-percent of the vote.

While Wood is the current Sheriff, this would have been the first time he was elected to the role.

Governor Rick Scott had selected Wood to take over for former Sheriff Larry Campbell in the interim, after Campbell passed away last year. Wood was undersheriff at the time.

“Yeah, I’m disappointed, you know,” said Wood. “I didn’t enter this race not to win. But, I’m going to honor that. I’ve served this Sheriff’s office for 33 years, but I can assure you that I’m going to make the transition as smooth as possible. I’m committed to that because I’m committed to this community. It is what it is.”

During the race, Wood changed his party affiliation from to Democrat to Independent—which he called a “strategic move.”

“But, I have no regrets,” Wood added. “I don’t think I would have done anything differently. I think if I had done the alternative to that, then I think I would have known my fate in August because we didn’t think we would be successful in the Democratic Primary.”

Wood wasn’t the only one to change his party affiliation to Independent. So, did Leon County Sheriff candidate Tommy Mills, who received about six percent of the vote.

While he’s not ruling out another run for Sheriff, Mills did commend McNeil on his win.

“And, we just congratulate him, and we just support him in his efforts of he has a big task ahead to take our town and clean it up and make people feel safe again,” said Mills.

So, what’s next for Mills?

“I don’t know,” added Mills. “You know, I’ve had so many great chapters in my life. But, whatever is ahead of me, I’m very optimistic.”

Meanwhile, Republican Charlie Strickland’s future is much more set in stone. He came into the race owning a gun range in Midway.

“I have a lucrative business to run that I’ve been neglecting quite a bit here recently as a result of this race,” said Strickland. “I have a couple of entrepreneurial opportunities that quite honestly are very attractive to me, and I have an opportunity to step away and go back to doing those things.”

But, he says he’s proud of the race he’s run.

“A lot of the issues that have been discussed in this race came out of our camp, and I feel pretty doggone good about the fact that we were able to drive a lot of the change and not even win the race,” Strickland added.

And, Strickland says he’ll support McNeil in any way he can, adding Leon County has “something to look forward to” in McNeil.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.