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Haywood Democrats won’t consider Republican for sheriff replacement

One of three candidates vying to be Haywood County’s next sheriff was eliminated from the competition in a preliminary round last week.


Lt. Bill Wilke, a district commander with the Asheville Police Department, isn’t in the running. The reason: Wilke is a Republican, and the job of picking the next sheriff lies with Democrats.

“We have to nominate a Democrat,” said Janie Benson, chairwoman of the Haywood Democratic Executive Committee, citing state party rules.

The job of picking a replacement for retiring Sheriff Bobby Suttles falls to the local Democratic Party since Suttles is himself a Democrat. Suttles had two years to go in his term.

In his application, Wilke had urged Democratic Party leaders to consider his qualifications and not his party affiliation, and was disappointed he was ruled out.

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“The process, quite obviously, is not open and democratic,” Wilke said in a statement.

In his comment, Wilke announced his plans to run for Haywood County sheriff in 2014. Wilke ran unsuccessfully for sheriff in 2010. Suttles defeated him by 7 percent.

“Our campaign for the Sheriff’s Office starts now, and I am confident that I will be elected in 2014,” Wilke said. As sheriff, my first order of business is to take the politics out of the Office so we can get down to the business of keeping our communities safe and prosperous.”

The two remaining candidates vying for Suttles’ seat are Chief Deputy Larry Bryson, 57, of the Haywood Sheriffs Office and Lt. Greg Christopher, 51, with the N.C. Highway Patrol.

“I feel like we have two very good qualified candidates,” Benson said. “I think we are fortunate.”

Party leaders will hear from the contenders in a forum at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23. Former N.C. Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, will moderate. Candidates will each receive 12 to 15 minutes to make their cases.

Registered Democrats are encouraged to attend and may submit questions for the candidates. Questions are due to the county democratic headquarters by Feb. 20 and must include the person’s name, their precinct and the name of their precinct chairperson.

Member of the Haywood Democratic Executive Committee will then vote on a replacement March 2.

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