Having earned a record 91.5% public approval rating, and with the crime rate down 18%, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office under Mike Chapman would seem headed into the 2015 election season on a high note. And by all accounts, among county residents, that is the case.
But within the local political party it’s a different story, and Chapman faces a nomination contest prior to the November elections. Instead of anything resembling smooth sailing, Chapman’s potential path to re-election will be turbulent. He must overcome a Republican faction bearing overheated rhetoric – and taunting Chapman to quit the party – and an opponent leading a mini-rebellion from within the agency (which actually began about the time Chapman took office) who also happens to have the backing of a Republican-turned-Independent, turned-Republican, former sheriff (who always seemed to hold substantial Republican support). And there is a subplot, with sock puppets.
Party politics is about nothing if not chest-thumping, temporary loyalty, brandished in a bellicose spree of righteousness and situational ethics, where a careful observer can almost always pinpoint the irony.
This introduction is the first in a series of articles between now and the May 2 Loudoun County Republican Committee (LCRC) convention, in which we’ll cover some of the complexities of the race for the nomination for sheriff.
The main characters in the saga are Sheriff Mike Chapman and his challenger for the Republican nomination, former deputy Eric Noble. For those of us on the outside – neither part of the anti-Chapman political faction nor tied to one of the campaigns – seeing through to the truth is a problem because it’s like double-secret inside baseball.
For one thing, the field of law enforcement is one most of us have little knowledge of, especially in terms of operations. But it’s also a specific workplace, with all of the workplace idiosyncrasies and conflicts – in this case a matter of “he said, he said” between an employee and their superior – that nobody on the outside is qualified to adjudicate. So we have to take at face value what both of the gentlemen are telling us, and try to follow along and assign credibility as best we can. But we must get through yet another cloak of mystery which comes from the political actors, through whom so much of the narrative has been filtered.
To get a sense of the overall style of the drama, we’ll start with a couple of samples from the public record, one from the very beginning of Chapman’s term and one from just recently. These feature one of Eric Noble’s most active supporters, Sterling Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio.
(To watch the video, click here and skip ahead to about 2 hours, 56 minutes.)
As part of the GOP sweep of county offices in the 2011 elections, Sheriff Chapman enjoyed a public honeymoon of precisely six weeks. He was officially sworn in on January 1, 2012, and Supervisor Delgaudio surprised Chapman with the following announcement at the Board Business Meeting on February 14, 2012, during Chapman’s presentation on the proposed Western Loudoun Station:
There are members of the force that think this is a boondoggle. Yes! And one of them might run for sheriff because we put this together.
Looking back at the early meeting, Chapman says: “I was kind of shocked that anybody would even say that” when he had barely gotten started in the position. At the time, he asked members of his senior staff but did not find out anything about whom on the staff Delgaudio was talking about – or why they were already dissatisfied.
(As we’ll see in an upcoming article, Chapman’s grace period with some top management had actually ended much earlier.)
Asked about the exchange recently, Delgaudio says he did not recall it, and states: “The imagery that you portray is horrific, of course, but I will look at it.” Delgaudio also notes that he had supported Chapman at the 2011 convention.
After reviewing the meeting video, Delgaudio says the debate over the proposed station in Round Hill was important to him because he firmly believed it was a bad use of taxpayer funds at the time. The crime rate in Ashburn was increasing, the number of deputy man hours spent on incidents in Ashburn was many times that of the western Loudoun area, and in Delgaudio’s view that is where a new station needed to be built first. To make matter worse, says Delgaudio, Chapman had campaigned against the Western Loudoun substation, but changed his position after taking office. Ashburn Supervisor Ralph Buona also should have taken a more active role in getting the station in his district sooner, according to Delgaudio.
“Chapman and Ralph Buona should have been focusing on Ashburn because Ashburn has the economy of scale that we’re talking about.”
Delgaudio says he did not have Eric Noble nor any other deputy in mind when he made the statement, and in fact the implication that someone was planning to run against Chapman was “hyperbole” intended to make a point. However, Delgudio points out that “every sheriff’s department has a potential adversary” and that Loudoun County is a “very fiesty” political environment that might have caught Chapman – a political newcomer – by surprise.
Told that Delgaudio had qualified his statement as hyperbole, Chapman says “Heh, well I’d only been there for a month and a half, so it’s kind of ridiculous.”
Fast-forwarding to the present, when Chapman has had ample opportunities to imbibe deeply of Loudoun County’s political richness: Several weeks ago, on the day after a prominent Republican blogger published a post on Facebook joining her gratitude for Senator Dick Black standing up against bullies like ISIS, with Eric Noble “standing up against the bully in the Sheriff’s Office,” Supervisor Delgaudio was even more direct, casting Mike Chapman as the return of Saddam Hussein.
Again, Delgaudio says “hyperbole alert,” and notes unapologetically that he employed Saddam Hussein for effect. (You can see the original tweet on Delgaudio’s Twitter account by scrolling down to April 1). Delgaudio was reacting to a post at a Republican blog run by the anti-Chapman faction, complaining about an alleged attempt by Chapman to interfere with a political event. Delgaudio says the tweet received a lot of activity and that Saddam Hussein was trending that day.
At an event hosted by Eric Noble in Sterling last weekend, I spoke to one of Noble’s supporters about the possibility that Chapman got off to a rocky start when his fellow Republican, Delgaudio, proposed a deputy running for sheriff, only six weeks into Chapman’s term.
The Noble supporter replied, “Oh boo hoo. It’s a political office and Chapman should have been prepared for challengers.”
This is probably true, and undoubtedly Chapman is reconciled to the fact by now. At the same time, the harshness of political reality – the “boo hoo” if you will – cuts in every direction, and along with the public impact of the rhetoric expressed on his behalf, Eric Noble is also enmeshed in difficult truths which will be among the topics covered here in the next few days.