After facing a bruising primary, which uncovered several controversial episodes in his past, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony narrowly made it through the Democratic primary, holding off former Sheriff Scott Israel in the process.
Gov. Ron DeSantis removed Israel from the position, replacing him with Tony. Tuesday’s field also included businessman Willie Jones, former BSO colonel Al Pollock and former BSO deputies Andrew Smalling and Santiago Vazquez Jr.
According to Tuesday’s unofficial results, Tony edged Israel 37%-35%. Pollock placed third with 11%, followed by Vazquez at 6.3%, Jones at 6.1% and Smalling at 4%.
“I am deeply honored that Democratic voters have chosen me to lead the Broward Sheriff’s Office into a brighter, safer future,” Tony said in a statement Tuesday night.
“We’ve come a long way in the last eighteen months, but there is still much work to be done. Together, we’re reforming the Sheriff’s Office, promoting good deputies and keeping our communities safer by embracing police reform. As your Sheriff, I will work tirelessly to make this department a model for how a public safety agency can be effective, transparent, and accountable to our community. Let’s keep moving forward.”
More than two years after the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, its effects can still be felt in South Florida and throughout the state.
DeSantis suspended Israel over how the Sheriff’s Office responded to the 2018 Parkland attack. DeSantis installed Tony in that role in early 2019 and Tony earned the backing of several families impacted by the attack. He quickly moved to fire deputies and a sergeant involved in the response to the school shooting.
Reporting over the past several months also uncovered multiple items in Tony’s past he concealed before his appointment to the Sheriff’s role and at other points in his law enforcement career.
Those instances include previous LSD use and Tony’s fatal shooting of an 18-year-old when Tony was only 14. Tony was cleared in that latter incident, claiming self-defense, and his records were sealed. But his failure to disclose the incident to the Governor drew wide criticism.
Tony appeared to be the odds-on favorite before the drip-drip-drip of previously undisclosed indiscretions, at least one of which triggered a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation.
Israel was well-liked before the attack as well though, particularly among the minority community, some of whom felt resentment over Israel’s removal.
His removal also sparked debate about whether DeSantis had utilized proper authority and judgment or whether he was appealing to the political winds at the time.
As the Senate reviewed the Governor’s decision, that body’s own appointed Special Master recommended Israel be reinstated as Broward Sheriff.
Nevertheless, the GOP-controlled Senate rejected that recommendation and removed him anyway. Several Democrats, including those who serve Broward County, voted against Israel’s removal, arguing DeSantis had overstepped his authority and preempted an action that should have been left to voters.
Pollock came closest to mounting a formidable challenge, securing the endorsement of the BSO’s main union. He was also the only candidate other than Israel or Tony to top $100,000 in fundraising.
The rest of the field struggled to reach voters, leaving the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Board to endorse Israel, who they saw as the better of the “only two viable candidates.” That came nearly two years after the same board supported Israel’s suspension.
The Democratic primary doesn’t officially settle the race, as two Republicans, a write-in and a non-party affiliated candidate have also qualified. Tony will, however, be marked as the heavy favorite for the General Election in the Democratic-leaning county.