Ontario County residents are particularly fortunate this fall as they prepare to vote for a successor to longtime county Sheriff Phil Povero, who is retiring after 28 years at the helm. Voters have two experienced, professional and dedicated candidates, both with longtime roots in Ontario County — and both of whom have run clean and collegial campaigns — to choose from.
There’s the Republican candidate, Silvio Palermo, a lifetime county resident with a 20-year career in law enforcement with various entities, beginning with the Canandaigua Police Department and currently serving with the Gates Police Department in Monroe County as a sergeant with command responsibilities. He has worked as a criminal investigator, a certified police instructor, certified firearms instructor and field training program coordinator. He also has served on the Victor Town Board, including a stint as deputy supervisor.
And there’s the Democratic candidate, Kevin Henderson, also a lifetime county resident, who has worked with the Sheriff’s Office for 34 years. He has served in the marine division, corrections, road patrol, community policing, critical incident facilitation and other facets of the Sheriff’s Office. He’s currently a school resource officer. Outside his role with the department, he is county coroner and serves on numerous boards and coalitions with a public-safety focus, including the Traffic Safety-STOP DWI Council and the Partnership for Ontario County.
So the county is indeed fortunate to have two candidates with demonstrated experience, leadership skills and commitment. We here at the Messenger editorial board are less fortunate as we consider our endorsement options, since either Henderson or Palermo would make a fine sheriff. Both are equipped to lead the multi-faceted law enforcement agency as it deals with current challenges — the raging opioid epidemic chief among them — and those looming on the horizon; as well as dealing with the day-to-day, nuts-and-bolts of policing and administration. Both have sensible plans for boosting recruitment and dealing with the challenges of limited resources.
Given that both are qualified, we believe Henderson’s experience — its breadth and depth more than its length — give him the edge.
Henderson has worked directly in and/or been certified in, just about every facet of the Sheriff’s Office, from road patrol to corrections, school resource to marine enforcement, K-9 handling to drug interdiction to death investigation. As well, his experience of more than three decades with the department means that he can hit the ground running, with little of a learning curve needed — he knows the personnel, the places, the issues. He knows how to work with personnel (as seen by his former work as the Sheriff’s Office union president), with youths (through his SRO work, among others) and the community.
All of which is no slight to Palermo’s experience or leadership skills, nor his commitment to public safety. He has campaigned on the need to institute an action plan for school safety, involving resource officers in each school and school-based threat-assessment analyses, and on multi-pronged approaches to fighting the opioid epidemic. Much of what Palermo intends to do, however, is already in the works to one extent or another — the SROs in each school, for example.
Many of the two men’s approaches and priorities are, in fact, similar: Both plan to aggressively seek and lobby for resources for necessary equipment — Palermo mentioned body cameras, Henderson ballistic vests for corrections officers. Both seek to improve department morale. Both seek to battle opioid abuse though a mixture of law enforcement (addressing overdose deaths as homicide investigations, as Palermo put it, which is being done in the county), treatment and prevention. Both stress the need for cooperation with other police agencies, such as the state police and local departments. Palermo is more direct about the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, or NY SAFE Act, for gun regulation, briefly stating his complete opposition; while Henderson notes that while he disagrees with some of the legislation, the sheriff must enforce the law, while being a voice in Albany for change.
In the end, a voter’s choice will likely come down to what she or he thinks of the state and direction of the Sheriff’s Office as it is now, at the end of the Povero era. If you think the department is moving in a positive direction, poised to tackle the challenges of the present and future, and would benefit best from an experienced man from within stepping up to take the reins, Henderson is likely your choice. If you believe the department needs the fresh eyes and perspective of a likewise experienced man who may be more inclined to change, Palermo is likely your choice.
Whichever way this vote goes Nov. 6, the people of Ontario County win. And as difficult as this endorsement process was, we wish every election had candidates that made it this hard.