As the Republican candidates for Tulsa County Sheriff have neared the March 1 primary election, interactions between some of the candidates have begun to fray slightly.
For a few minutes on Saturday, during the last public forum before voters head to the polls, those interactions played out in front of about 200 people at Rudisill Regional Library.
Vic Regalado, Luke Sherman, and John Fitzpatrick took turns needling each other over allegations that had so far mostly played out in the media. Regalado has taken heat in recent days over contributions to his campaign, and on Saturday, his opponents challenged him for the first time in person.
Fitzpatrick asked Regalado about the contributions to his campaign. Regalado received a combined $9,000 from the family of T. Hastings Siegfried, a wealthy reserve deputy, drawing comparison to the relationship between reserve deputy Robert Bates and former Sheriff Stanley Glanz.
Fitzpatrick said he thought it was unethical “for a reserve to be funding a campaign.”
The comparison was notable because Bates previously served as campaign chairman for Glanz, and routinely donated the maximum amount to his election campaigns. Sherman piled on, adding that “we can’t have wealthy donors controlling the sheriff.”
Regalado called those comparisons “irresponsible,” and later said in a message to The Frontier that “most of (his opponents’) accusations or assumptions were baseless and void of fact.”
“I knew the process would be difficult especially towards the end,” Regalado said in the message. “I am proud of the plan my campaign team put together at the beginning and the execution of that plan leading up to election. I did appreciate the opportunity to address my opponents’ attempts to cast a negative light on my campaign.”
In addition to questions about donations from the Siegfried family, Regalado has faced scrutiny over donations from a group of employees of a Catoosa industrial construction company, ISTI Plant Services. The employees and their spouses contributed a combined $33,900, with nearly all coming on Feb. 12. Four of the contributors live in Rogers County and can’t vote in the race while several others aren’t registered to vote.
An investigation by The Frontier into the donations found that one of the ISTI donors is a felon, whose donation Regalado said he plans to return.
During the debate, Regalado questioned Fitzpatrick on his role as president and CEO of Lifeguard America, Inc. Fitzpatrick has said his company was hit hard during an economic downturn, and he turned down a paycheck for months, the result of which was his home briefly entering the foreclosure process.
Sherman, who has focused his campaign on his history as a law enforcer and a manager who has been both street cop and budget manager, asked Regalado about his “lack of administrative experience.”
“We can talk all day about our operational experience,” Sherman said to Regalado, a longtime homicide investigator who now works on the Tulsa Police Gang Unit. “But what administrative things do you bring to the table?”
Regalado countered that, saying that the sheriff’s office “needs a leader.”
“We don’t need a politician in there; we need service,” Regalado said. “We need a leader. … I’ve managed people, resources, paperwork, some of those homicide investigations took 5-6 years, Leaders are there, they’re at work with their people.”
— Vic Regalado (@Vic4Sheriff) February 27, 2016
But almost as soon as the fireworks began, they fizzled out. Candidates took the stage in groups of four — Regalado, Sherman, Fitzpatrick, and Dan Miller took the stage first — and when Brandon Hendrix, Tom Helm, Randy Pierce, and Jason Jackson took their turn, they all passed on grilling each other.
Sherman and Fitzpatrick said following the debate that they appreciated the opportunity to address their opponents face-to-face. They said at previous forums they were advised to only talk about their campaigns.
“Vic asked a question trying to embarrass me,” Fitzpatrick said about Regalado’s question regarding his business. “He got it thrown back hopefully in his face, because that was a personal question. He wanted to probe into something that was personal, and that’s OK if what drives you is to try and bring someone down.”
“It was good,” Sherman said. “When you’re addressed on personal issues, you feel like, you know what, if we’re going to bring those up, then lets open this up.”
Sherman said that he and Regalado “work together, have known each other for a long time.”
“So it was a relief to ask him, ‘Hey, what are your admin skills?’ I questioned them and he answered, and that was a relief for me, and probably him, because we don’t want to go to the polls March 1 with voters wondering, ‘Was there stuff that these guys left on the table?'”