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The race is on for Lee County Sheriff

Mike Scott, Lee County Sheriff incumbent, earning 85 percent of the vote in the GOP primary, recently defeated his party challenger, Stephanie Eller — narrowing the race down to just two.

Scott’s opponent and former employee, James Didio, is running unaffiliated (NPA), something someone has yet to successfully do in Lee County.

Despite that the office of Sheriff in Lee County currently demands over 40 percent of the county’s operating budget, or $166.5 million with 1,600 people under his command, many voters don’t seem to know who the candidates are.

Carter Hargreaves, a 22-year-old graduate student at FGCU seeking M.A. in occupational therapy, said, “I’m not even sure who is running for Sheriff.”

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Scott first took charge of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office in 2004, becoming the 12th person to oversee the agency since 1887. If Scott were to win this November, it would be his fourth term in office.

According to The News-Press — who has endorsed Scott for all of his four terms — during his most recent term, the crime rate has dropped for non-violent crimes, like theft and burglaries, but increased one percent for violent crimes. Drug arrests are up 58 percent, compared to this time last year, from 955 to 1,512.

Scott told The News-Press, “It’s not fair to law enforcement. There has been a change in society. The good guys have become the bad guys. The majority of the people get it. It’s the vocal minority that creates hysteria.”

Scott has also opposed President Obama on certain gun control measures in the past.

Unlike his opponent, Didio doesn’t have a newspaper in his pocket. He, on the other hand, relies on going door to door himself campaigning for the job. Didio recently attended a meeting of the FGCU College Republicans. The club has been growing in attendance since the start of the fall semester thanks to Didio and other speakers of the same caliber.

Melany Hernandez, Secretary of the FGCU College Republicans, said, “What helped us is how involved we are with the guest speakers. They told people, and then those people told people, and it created a domino effect.”

Before becoming a deputy with the Lee County Sheriff’s department in 2006, the husband and father of two worked as a non-certified officer directing traffic for the City of Sanibel while also working at two body shops until he became of age to attend the police academy.

Throughout the years Didio has assisted in multiple special operations including Street Crimes, Field Force, Auto Theft, Narcotics, Marine Unit and the Traffic Unit. After working nights for six years straight to focus on getting DUI’s in between calls, Didio was recognized by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for arresting 100 suspected drunk drivers in 2010. Didio has been recognized on multiple occasions for his bravery, skills and on the job knowledge by his former boss, Scott.

“I would consider him a little more than an acquaintance,” Didio said, “we are not the best of friends. I have nothing against him and I don’t think he has anything against me.”

Didio and Scott still run into each other quite often.

As it turns out, one of Didio’s auto body repair shops, McGregor Auto Body and Detail, is just across the street from the Sheriff’s house. “Every time he pulls up to that red light, he gets to look at my business and I get to look at him and wave,” Didio said. “No hostile actions — we’re not slinging mud, I don’t think he has to and I don’t want to.”

As reported by The News-Press, Didio has pointed to low morale, which he said stems largely from low pay, as a department problem under Scott’s leadership.

Didio told The News-Press, “This has turned into a training agency. People come here for a couple years and get experience, then they leave for other departments where they make twice as much money for the same job.”

Despite the fact that Didio has no vocal proponents in the current Lee County Sheriff’s department, it doesn’t mean he has no friends there.

Scott’s primary challenger, Eller, had seven people from the department speak on her behalf — all seven were soon after let go by the department.

Derrick Boysen, former Sanibel Police Officer and colleague of Didio, who now resides in North Carolina said, “James was sort of a mentor to me. I learned a lot from him. Every time we went on a call you could tell the person we were dealing with meant more to him than anything else.”

Even though there is a chance history is made and Didio wins on Nov. 8, Scott, has the upper hand as the incumbent — still, both candidates face the struggle of obscurity.

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