AUBURN — The race for Androscoggin County sheriff heated up Wednesday when the department’s union threw its support behind candidate Eric Samson.
Running against incumbent Sheriff Guy Desjardins, Samson won the backing of union members who declared they were tired of politics as usual.
“When Sheriff Desjardins took office, there were expectations that there would be changes within the department, changes that would make it a better work environment,” said Sgt. Rielly Bryant, chief steward of the union. “But the union has not seen those changes. What we’ve seen is the sheriff being more concerned with the political aspects of the job and not necessarily working to make it a better place for the employees.”
Told about the union stance Wednesday, Desjardins said he was stunned.
“It hurts,” Desjardins said. “I’ve worked so hard and we’ve accomplished so much. I really thought I’d made a difference. There have been so many successes. It’s really hard for me to understand how this came about.”
Desjardins pointed out the changes he’s made: bringing in new equipment, enacting new safety measures, making changes to the staff and improving media relations.
“I’ve done everything I promised I would do,” he said.
Desjardins and Samson, both Democrats, will face off in the primary June 8. Unless a write-in candidate emerges between now and then — considered unlikely — the primary will decide the county’s next sheriff.
With the exception of six members who voted to have the union remain neutral in the sheriff’s race, the vote to endorse Samson was unanimous, according to a press release sent out Wednesday night.
“We don’t want to bash the sheriff or anything like that,” Bryant said. “But from the union standpoint, we gave him four years to make his case.”
Samson, the sheriff’s choice for chief deputy when Desjardins took over in 2006, announced at the start of April that he planned to run for the position.
“I am honored,” Samson said when notified of the union vote. “And it’s very humbling to have the workers who are on the front lines of law enforcement take a public position backing me for sheriff. This endorsement tells me that the law enforcement employees know I am in this race for them.”
Samson, 38, of Auburn, has worked at the Sheriff’s Department since 1991. He has served as Transportation Division supervisor, programs director and chief deputy.
“I have always worked hard for the department and the citizens of this county in every capacity I have served,” Samson said. “I will continue to do so when elected sheriff.”
Desjardins, 56, of Sabattus has been in law enforcement for 32 years. Before he was elected sheriff in 2006, he served as chief deputy for 10 years.
After learning of the union vote, Desjardins vowed to continue campaigning for his job.
“I guess I have to say I respect the union’s decision, but I don’t understand it,” he said. “I guess it will be up for the people to decide.”