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2020 is looking to be a pivotal year in politics. But this year's elections are about much more than the race for the White House. And the coronavirus pandemic is proving to be a complicating factor. WKSU, our colleagues at public radio stations across Ohio and the region and at NPR will bring you coverage of all the races from the national to the local level.

Portage County Voters Elect First Republican Sheriff in a Decade

photo of Bruce Zuchowski
Bruce Zuchowski is the Sheriff-elect of Portage County.

Portage County’s next sheriff will be a Republican for the first time in more than a decade after Bruce Zuchowski defeated Democrat Greg Johnson to win the seat. Incumbent Portage County Sheriff David Doak, a Democrat, is retiring at the end of his term after serving in the job since 2009.

Zuchowski, who previously served as assistant post commander for the Ohio State Highway Patrol, holds a 43,483 to 33,750 vote lead over Johnson, who previously served as chief detective in the Portage County Sheriff’s Office, according to the final but unofficial results from the Portage County Board of Elections.

Zuchowski’s win was one of several Republican victories Tuesday in Portage County. Republicans gained the majority of county commissioners’ seats with Tony Badalamenti unseating incumbent Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat, and Commissioner Sabrina Christian-Bennett, a Republican, defeating Democrat John Kennedy to retain her seat. Incumbent Recorder Lori Calcei, a Republican, also defeated Democratic challenger Leighann Fink.

Voter turnout in Portage County was 75%, with 81,719 ballots counted, according to the final but unofficial results from the Portage County Board of Elections.

“I am very humbled for this opportunity to serve as sheriff of Portage County and I will not waiver on my campaign platform of professionalism, dedication and accountability. I will proudly serve the great people of Portage as your next sheriff,” Zuchowski wrote in a letter following his victory. Zuchowski did not respond to several interview requests.

Johnson wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday that although he was disappointed by the results, he was proud of his campaign and the vision he had for the Portage County Sheriff’s Office. Johnson did not respond to several interview requests.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet scores of concerned residents who care very deeply about Portage County,” Johnson wrote. “Even though our campaign ends here, I know these folks will continue to work hard to improve our community. It is my hope that our new sheriff will be proactive in creating opportunities for citizens of all backgrounds to be involved and engaged with law enforcement.”

Zuchowski has 26 years of experience with the Ohio State Highway Patrol, according to his website.

One of Zuchowski’s responsibilities will be managing operations at the Portage County Jail, the subject of allegations of misconduct for several years. Twenty-three former inmates accused jail staff of mistreatment, claims that were found by the Portage County Prosecutor's Office to be false following a months-long investigation. The investigation reports were not made public.

In March, three deputies were fired, one for admitting he had sex with a former inmate he met at the jail and two others for texting each other derogatory comments and photos about admininstrators and other jail employees. In 2017, Major Dennis Missimi resigned after being accused of sexual harassment—the sheriff’s office, Portage County and Missimi were all sued in August 2018.

In regard to running the Portage County Jail, Zuchowski wrote in a letter addressed to Portage County residents that he has “reviewed the budget, spoken to many of the staff that works there and understand many of the issues that have developed over the years has been a result of poor direction and leadership.”

Zuchowski also wrote that the Ohio State Highway Patrol is “responsible for all investigations in Ohio state prisons, which house the worst of the worst offenders and in much larger numbers than local county jail populations.” He wrote that he believes his experience with the Ohio State Highway Patrol will help him understand how to run the jail.

This article was produced through a reporting partnership with the Collaborative News Lab @ Kent State University.