By Barnett Wright and Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Mark Pettway, who made history as the first Black sheriff elected in Jefferson County (AL) four years ago, was re-elected Tuesday night to another full four-year term.
Pettway, a Democrat, received 52.09 percent, or 102,440 votes, to defeat Republican challenger and newcomer Jared Hudson, who received 47.84 percent, or 94,077, according to unofficial results.
“I guess I got a job for four more years,” Pettway, with wife Vanessa by his side, told supporters during his election night watch party at The Canvas Event Center in Birmingham’s Glen Iris neighborhood.
As he has continually done since his first campaign in 2018, Pettway stressed that his success as a candidate is not merely his own work.
“I first want to give all the glory to God, and I thank all the voters that went out and voted today. I thank you for your vote, and those that didn’t vote for me, I want to earn your vote,” Pettway said.
The sheriff pointed to some of his initiatives put in place over the past four years and his current plans for the future like a new regional jail to reduce the burden on smaller municipalities in Jefferson County and the Crisis CARE Center, which diverts people experiencing mental health crises from jails.
“That means that now the deputies can take a patient or person to the Crisis CARE Center, and within 10 minutes, they are back out to their beats. They’re out protecting you all over again, and that is what you want. You want good government. You want that protection, and that’s what we work to do every day for you, the citizens right here in Jefferson County,” he said to cheers.
In the Jefferson County Bessemer Cutoff District Attorney race, incumbent Lynneice Washington defeated GOP challenger Bill Veitch.
Washington, 54, has served as the Cutoff’s district attorney since 2016 when she became the first Black woman elected district attorney in Alabama.
Washington on Tuesday received 26,635 votes for 53.25 percent compared to Veitch’s 23,336 votes, which was 46.66 percent.
During his term, Pettway has heavily focused on rehabilitative efforts for incarcerated people in the county with programs like Jobs Not Jail and has said that within these new jails the sheriff intends to provide greater skills and trade training for those incarcerated.
“We want to change their lives, and we want to rehab them, so we [want to] have a place to teach and train them trades. We can place them in good paying jobs,” Pettway said.
Voter turnout in Jefferson County was 41 percent during unseasonably warm weather for November.
Pettway, 58, a law enforcement veteran with more than three decades in public safety, has proven to be a skilled campaigner upsetting longtime incumbent Mike Hale in 2018 to begin his first term; and this spring winning the Democratic primary with 76 percent of the vote against three challengers.
At his watch party on Tuesday, Pettway’s supporters, who erupted in cheers as more votes were reported throughout the evening, shared enthusiasm for the sheriff.
Harold W. Bass, pastor of Olivet Monumental Baptist Church, and a Pettway voter, said the sheriff’s work “speaks for itself.”
“He has really had a large impact, positive impact, as well as in the city of Birmingham. We’ve not seen a sheriff [like this].”
Guyrinthain Harris, another Pettway supporter, agreed with Bass, saying Pettway’s work with people is unique. “We’ve never had a sheriff that we have felt so proud of, serving the people.”
Shawn Wallace said he began the night expecting a win for the sheriff. “You have to be a people person…In the community, you have to get involved. You have to get the public’s opinion, what’s going on in their neighborhood, and that’s what Mark brings. He brings an ear to hear what the concerns are in the communities.”
Michael Battle, who worked with his wife Kim on both of Pettway’s campaigns, said the sheriff’s character led him to his second victory.
“We believe in God also, and just him as the man of God that he is, we were just praying today, God give us a repeat. Him beating Mike Hale was nothing short of a miracle when you stack them up to each other…For him to hold onto his seat, hold onto his sheriff’s position, I think it’s awesome.”
“We know what kind of person he is. He’s a good man,” he added.
Rasheena Harris, a Children’s Hospital employee who’s supported Pettway since his first campaign, said she has been particularly excited by Pettway’s work around mental health and that his character is strong.
“I started with the first campaign…but I’ve watched him for these last few years, and he’s been doing a great job. There’s a lot of crap going on…He hasn’t started any, and it makes a difference,” Harris said.
Support For Hudson
Efforts to reach Hudson, 37, a U.S. Navy veteran and retired law enforcement officer from northern Jefferson County, for comment were unsuccessful. However, some of his supporters said they felt the newcomer would bring “fresh ideas” to the office.
“I voted for him just to get some new blood in,” said Susanne McCarthy, of Forest Park, a neighborhood near Avondale Public Library box. “Although he’s young he has experience with military and law enforcement. I like voting for people that are young and has fresh new ideas,”
But the night belonged to Pettway, who since being elected in 2018, has built on his resume as sheriff. In August, he was named Law Enforcement Executive of the Year by the International Crisis Intervention Team, which advocates for improved community responses to mental health crises.
The sheriff said he felt great pride from the acknowledgement, which he said shows that the JCSO has been “thinking differently.”
“I’ve been involved in law enforcement, like 30 years now and never been trained to deal with people with mental issues. If I haven’t been trained most, most people in law enforcement have not been trained, so that’s something new to us,” Pettway, 58, said.
Pettway grew up in Birmingham’s College Hills neighborhood, the third of six children born to Ed, a retired Army sergeant, and Camilla Satisfield Pettway, a longtime teacher in the Jefferson County Schools (JCS) system.
Pettway has been married to Vanessa, who he met at a Bible study in the late 1980s, for 29 years. The couple have two daughters, both of whom are teachers.
Voters said their familiarity with the sheriff played a large role in their support for him.
“Pettway is a great candidate for the job,” said Edwina Robinson, a Birmingham, AL resident at the Legion Field box. “He’s been there, he knows what’s going on, he knows what to do and we just have to stand behind him he can’t do it alone. He has done so much in the community. He has helped the youth and so many people get jobs so why not reelect him?”
Some said they were not familiar with Hudson, a political newcomer, and would prefer re-electing someone who has listened to their concerns or assisted them in some way.
“We don’t know anything about [Hudson]. He just came on the scene but we know about Pettway. We actually get to see him. He has been out in the community doing food giveaways and more to help our young people,” said Gloria Murray, a resident from Birmingham.
At the Legion Field box, Larraine Jackson, who also lives in Birmingham said, “I voted for Pettway so that he can serve a second term. He has been the only Sheriff elected that has been visible. You see him all the time. It’s been times people would get elected and you won’t see them again. Not only do you see Pettway, but you see deputy sheriffs out all the time. They are always riding around and honestly sometimes the police department needs a little help and they both have been working together as one and I love that.”
Nicole S. Daniel contributed to this post