Four words that he uttered at a news conference last May helped Timothy B. Howard win a third term as Erie County sheriff.
The words were “I won’t enforce it,” and Howard was talking about the SAFE Act, a controversial new state firearms law that has outraged gun owners.
The support of angry firearms owners helped the Republican sheriff to a big win Tuesday over his Democratic Party opponent, retired Sheriff’s Deputy Richard E. Dobson, and Sheriff’s Lt. Bert D. Dunn, a Law and Order Party candidate who lost the Democratic nomination in the September primary.
Howard, 63, of South Wales, also received a big boost from having two candidates scrapping with each other over the votes of Democrats.
Late Tuesday night, a jubilant Howard thanked his supporters and leaders of the Republican and Conservative parties for helping him win. He said people all over Erie County have thanked him for his stand on the gun issue.
“I did what I thought was the right thing to do,” Howard told The Buffalo News. “People in Western New York feel strongly about the Constitution and Albany’s misreading of it.”
Since taking office in 2005, Howard has faced some difficult times – including prisoner escapes, mistaken releases of prisoners and suicides at the jail and prison operated by his department. But voters made him only the third Erie County sheriff since 1821 to be elected to three consecutive four-year terms.
“The SAFE Act was a major issue in this election,” said Carl J. Calabrese, a former Erie County deputy county executive who now works as a political consultant. “A lot of people in Erie County, both Republicans and Democrats, are hunters, gun owners and shooters … These are motivated people who get out and vote. In a low-turnout election year like this one, it can make a huge difference.”
Howard has repeatedly voiced his opposition to the state gun control law enacted earlier this year with strong support from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Howard supports a court challenge to the SAFE Act and has publicly stated that he won’t enforce the law, because in his view, it violates the constitutional rights of gun owners.
Gun owners worked hard to help Howard win, said Harold “Budd” Schroeder of Lancaster, chairman of the board of the Shooters Committee on Political Education. “Don’t you see the signs posted all over Erie County, opposing the SAFE Act? People are very upset about this.”