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In Flagler Sheriff’s Race, It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again As Fleming and Pollinger Join Forces Against Manfre

| July 27, 2015

johnpollinger jim manfre don fleming election 2016 flagler county sheriff's office

This time they have him surrounded: Ex-Sheriff Don Fleming, left, and John Pollinger, right, who like Fleming was a long-time police chief in New Jersey, are teaming up to take on Sheriff Jim Manfre in 2016. They were last this close during the 2012 election cycle. (© FlaglerLive)

There’s been a Bush or a Clinton in the White House for about 20 of the last 26 years, and there may yet be one or the other for the next four come 2016.


Flagler County’s equivalent is the sheriff’s office. There’s been a Manfre or a Fleming in that office for the last 15 years, and there may yet be one or the other for at least another four come 2016.

Don Fleming, who first won the office in 2004 and held it for eight years, is running again, reviving what has been the county’s longest and bitterest rivalry in politics and setting up what could potentially be the third electoral confrontation with Manfre. That’s assuming either Manfre or Fleming make it out of their respective primaries. Fleming is a Republican. Manfre is a Democrat. Both will be bringing considerable baggage to the race, along with a likely dose of voter fatigue with their two names.

Manfre portrayed himself as an agent of change during his 2012 run, hammering Fleming over Fleming’s ethical breach—the sheriff was fined $500 by the Florida Ethics Commission—and promising a more upstanding agency, only to be hammered in turn by the ethics commission in a series of more serious breaches that Manfre disputes and continues to fight.

To Fleming, the decision to run came down to an unapologetic promise of restoration. He wants to bring back the agency to what it was when he ran it, by which he means stability in the command structure and job satisfaction among the ranks, two elements that have demonstrably suffered under Manfre.

“I may be making seven people unhappy, but I’ll be making 250 employees happy,” Manfre said the week he took office, when he immediately demoted, fired and shifted a slew of personnel, including key members of Manfre’s command structure such as Steve Clair, John Plummer and Lynn Catoggio (individuals Fleming says he would bring back). But 80 of those employees have since left the agency, a huge turn-over rate.

Manfre’s entire command staff has changed in two years. Fleming says his command staff remained stable, with one exception (Bill Karback, his undersheriff, with whom he had a falling out. Karback then ran against Fleming and lost), though that’s also Manfre’s criticism of Fleming: that Fleming’s command structure was clickish, or that there was no effective leadership.

“I think they liked their job. I don’t think they like their job anymore,” Fleming says of the ranks today, criticizing Manfre for replacing staff he had in place with “knuckleheads.” Asked to specify whom he meant, Fleming demurred, saying, “I don’t believe in being a dictator.” But he specified whom he meant when he was in charge: “I remember the Catoggios, the Clairs, the Plummers, all very good command staff” who made their way through the ranks in the agency. (Fleming said Catoggio is involved in his campaign, as is Ann Maretone, who was once active in the local tea party. Fleming also mentioned Debbie Johnson, the public information officer Manfre hired in his first term in 2000, then pushed out in the more recent term before Johnson’s two replacements cycled in and out of the PIO office. But Johnson said she’s not been involved.)

Just as Manfre when he took over in 2012 talked about needing more than four years to clean up what he perceived as the mess Fleming had created, Fleming now says it’ll take more than four years to clean up Manfre’s mess, a task he describes as restructuring. “The face of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office will be the face of something other agencies look at and are proud of, not laughed at,” Fleming says.

Manfre and Fleming are men of surprises: Manfre managed to turn his one-time rival Ray Stevens, who ran as an independent against Manfre in 2008, into an ally in 2012, at least briefly enough to help him in the electiuon (a decision Stevens would later regret). And Manfre pulled in Rick Staly, a staunch conservative Republican, as his undersheriff in 2012.


Fleming is looking for a restoration of the sheriff’s office as he knew it.


Fleming has pulled his own surprise already. His campaign’s right-hand man is none other than John Pollinger, the retired police chief who challenged Fleming in the 2012 primary, and whom Fleming described as “another Jersey guy.” Both men spent their police careers in New Jersey, each rising to chief until retirement.

“Don called me twice asking me if I was going to run. I said no,” Pollinger said during an extensive interview Saturday, with Fleming at his side. “He called me again and asked me if I was going to run. I gave him an emphatic no.” Then Fleming told him he was going to run, and would Pollinger support him. “I gave him an emphatic yes.” He described Fleming as the best-qualified candidate for the job because of his years in the military and a 40-year career in law enforcement, much of it as chief and eight years of it as sheriff in Flagler.

Pollinger says he’s not been promised a job, nor heard any promises from Fleming: that would be illegal, he says. But Fleming describes him as “a strong contender” for the undersheriff job, a choice that may also blunt a question Fleming hears about his own fitness for the job: his age. He’d be 71 should he win office again in 2016. Fleming says he has a clean bill of health and feels fine and eager to return to the job (he’s been running his own private investigative agency since leaving office). “I feel I have an obligation to fix what’s wrong there,” he says.

Fleming may face opposition from Staly, among others. He calls Staly an “architect” of the Manfre administration for two years. “I don’t want to have issues to run against him, but if he brings up issues, I will, too,” Fleming said, suggesting he’s ready to go negative if that’s where the race will go. “If everybody ran their campaigns on just the issues, it’d be easier to run. But I’m prepared. I’m prepared this time. I still have the stab wounds in my back.”

Staly resigned in March amid what at the time looked like a carefully choreographed lovefest between him and Manfre. The love is gone, replaced by outright attacks stemming from the investigative report of Manfre’s ethical issues, which prompted Manfre to shift blame to Staly, and Staly to criticize the sheriff for not taking responsibility—and last week going as far as likening the sheriff’s behavior to that of a criminal.

Fleming on Saturday talked about his own ethical lapse. It was the result of a gift card he accepted that gave him access to Hammock beach Resort, the sort of access denied members of the public. The ethics commission fined him $500. Fleming says he made a mistake, owned up to it and got past it.

The primary is still a year away, but the shape of the race so far is making the last four elections for sheriff look like preludes again.

Manfre beat Arthur Dyer by 623 votes in 2000. Thomas Hutson knocked out Manfre in the Democratic primary four years later, beating him by 300 votes. Fleming easily beat Hutson with 56 percent of the vote in the general election.

In 2008 Fleming faced Karback in the primary, along with a third, lesser-known candidate (Jim Delaney) and beat them both with 54 percent of the vote, setting up his first head-to-head confrontation with Manfre, who’d won a four-way primary with 38 percent of the vote. Fleming won with 41 percent of the vote to Manfre’s 39, as Ray Stevens, a retired Ossining, N.Y., cop running as an independent, took 20 percent.

Four years later Fleming faced stiff opposition in the primary from Stevens and Pollinger. Pollinger had been weakened by a relentless assault from the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies, the radical-right pressure group that had fielded Stevens and, through Stevens and his campaign manager, had challenged Pollinger’s Republican credentials in court, a challenge that garnered more press than the judge’s patience: the challenge was dismissed. But Pollinger came in third. Fleming cleared the primary with 39 percent of the vote to Stevens’s 33 percent, setting up his second confrontation with Manfre.

(In a subsequent interview in early August, Stevens aid: “At this point we’re still a year out. I don’t really know what I’m going to do I’ve been studying the political landscape. I’m weighting my options as to whether I’m going to run or not, and if I don’t run, who I’m going to support.”)

Fleming and Manfre have this in common: unvarnished contempt for the Reagan group, though expediency at times has gotten ahead of the contempt: Manfre’s drafting of Stevens into his campaign in 2012 may have been enough to give Manfre the extra handful of votes he needed to beat Fleming. That was all it was: Manfre won by 332 votes out of almost 49,000 votes cast, with a write-in—one of those Reagan group agitations designed to jigger the race rather than  offer a serious contender—taking 286 votes.

Clearly, Fleming is not the only one who now wants revenge.

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34 Responses for “In Flagler Sheriff’s Race, It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again As Fleming and Pollinger Join Forces Against Manfre”

  1. Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

    It would be nice if we had a candidate that understood the need for police reform and wasn’t so old that they remember the moon landing and voted for eisenhower.

  2. We need change-not more of the same ol says:

    Time to stop repeating history…..looking for new blood, new ideas, new direction, and for someone who hasn’t committed ethics violations or created lawsuits. This reminds me so much of the Three Stooges.

  3. Robert Lewis says:

    It was Ray Stevens and Anne Marie Shaffer who campaigned for Jim Manfre.
    Our now chairwoman of the Republican Party has complete deniability, after all isn’t she the purest republican? How is it that the Republican Party supports Jim Manfre (openly) and it’s acceptable. While what they did to John Pollinger was no less than disgraceful. Shame on them!

    Shame on everyone of them that remained silent and allowed this to happen! Shame on every member of the Republican Party who were warned about these Reagan lunatics, and said nothing!

    Shame on all those remaining silent and allowing the rise of Anne Marie Shaffer! Wait for the Stevens announcement. It sickens me.

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

  4. 30 Year Veteran Officer says:

    We have already had 16 years of mismanagement and unethical behavior from Fleming and Manfre, along with Staly’s hush hush about Manfre’s unethical behavior until someone else turned Manfre in.
    It is time for some new blood who can clean up this mess and bring the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office back to being a respected agency who is ready for the challenges ahead.

    When my out of town Law Enforcement friends ask about my Flagler Sheriff, I am embarrassed to answer.

    • PCer says:

      Why don’t you run?

    • Buddy Negron says:

      July 27, 2015 at 2:42 pm
      Again you try to pin Staly into this group, when he was actually the state’s star witness against Manfre in this case. Did you even listen to or read the transcripts???

  5. David S says:

    Here we go again,we need a great sheriff like Grady Judd of polk county!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. tulip says:

    Mr. Fleming and Mr. Pollinger will make a good team. Thumbs up.

  7. Enlightened says:

    More of the same! Where are you Steve Clair? We need you. Please do not vote for these clowns. More of the same is not good for the agency. Better choices would be nice. It’s time to take out the trash!

  8. Sherry E says:

    Obviously we need different choices . . . instead of the same corrupt good ole boys. Hoping someone completely new and qualified steps up and gives us a viable option!

  9. Double Vision says:

    These guys USED to be cops. Time to move on like Bush and Cheney as a matter of I think they want to be Bush and Cheney fake Politicians on an ego kick. The negative side of all of these guys is they allow private beefs and favoritisms to creep out into the public eye and influence their jobs in a bad way. This job shouldn’t be a hobby or another notch in the ammo belt or just something else to keep a retire busy for a few years, it’s about our safety and building a relationship with a fast growing community. Lets see some untarnished tin for once.

  10. SadieS says:

    Someone should recruit Joel Bolante, former Under-sheriff from St. Johns County (and the husband of Mrs. Bolante that Manfre fired). He very recently retired from St. Johns County and would be an excellent choice for sheriff of Flagler County!

  11. Time For A Change says:

    Bring in Mike Chitwood. He’s cleaned up several depts

  12. Buddy Negron says:

    Ok so Pollinger,, who also hasn’t ever served a as a cop or police administrator in Florida is somehow going to legitimize the former Sheriff, Fleming, who was found guilty on ethics violations and this is who we are going to hope will clean up FCSO?? Like Manfre did?? Lol. C’mon people, get smart! It’s time we have a real Police Administrator who has spent his entire career in Florida law enforcement, with the proven experience to lead. I certainly hope Rick Staly is reading this!! We need you NOW! C’mon Rick, make a run!!! You can win hands down over these amateurs, has beens, and ethically challenged politicians!!

    • Ray Thorne says:

      And again, your strong wording toward other candidates is a turn off and only serves to hurt who you support….if I were Staly, I’d tell you to shut up. But I’m not, so please….go on.

  13. Footballen says:

    Wait what did Polinger do? Did I miss something or am I just not up to speed on the “batch everyone into one group and judge them seminar”? I see alot of open minds here, not.

  14. Kendall says:

    We have some great deputies (and former deputies) here in Flagler County who are more than qualified to lead the FCSO to being an agency free of scandal and pettiness; one that the citizens can respect and feel proud of.

    Hopefully some familiar names will emerge soon.

  15. Guiness says:

    Please check out O’Gara for Sheriff web site. Change we need in Palm Coast!!!

    www,og4sheriff.com

  16. Beach Guy says:

    I’ m with the majority here, time for a new guy. I have been reading about this new guy O’Gara….. Seems like my man right now. Proven leader, not a political insider and what we need most integrity. That would be a breath on fresh air around here. Check out his stuff, sounds like the fella we need

  17. Jim Wjamesjames w says:

    Someone please explain to me why it would matter if a sheriff was republican or democrat? It doesn’t so why do we have to say whether they are or not. Get rid of these three old birds. They all came from much bigger operations up north.we need someone with experience in Florida. Some that can deal with our issues.

  18. tulip says:

    O Gara was a corrections officer–that was his expertise. No experience in actually being a sheriff and running a sheriff’s office and being in command of the deputies and day to day situations and problems that arise.

    • Jen says:

      He was also the warden at Rikers. So, I think he probably does know a little something about organization and being in command, not to mention taking care of problems. :)

    • Guiness says:

      tulip—Mr. O’Gara has extensive experience in running a jail as a warden and working with correction officers. I did wonder the same thing you did, but after reading and researching his back-round I’m very confident in his ability to lead our deputies. Good Wishes to you!.

  19. Lena Marshall says:

    another race to the finish got to love it, what other county do you know you can take a leave to be a lawyer and come back in to beat the man in office. Let bring it on

    • Ray Thorne says:

      Running for a second term as Sheriff and being voted out in the primary election is not taking a leave ….its called losing.

  20. Commom Sense says:

    Pollinger is an experienced officer and he is not part of the old boy network, his relationship with Fleming notwithstanding.

    Watch for anyone who has the support of the RRR.

  21. KB63 says:

    Let’s see. Manfre finally realizes what a load of crap he’s in, all the while proclaiming his innocence, but decides not to run again. Jeff Hoffman runs for Sheriff with Manfre’s and all his cronies’ backing. Hoffman keeps his girlfriend on as financial officer, keeps Sid Nowell as Sheriff’s office attorney and Manfre goes back to the firm to represent the Sheriff’s office. win, win for them all.

  22. Heading North says:

    Unless something has changed in NY, Rikers Island is a correctional facility. Corrections officers in NYS are classed as “peace officers” NOT police officers. I have friends and relatives in corrections in NYS and they do NOT have powers of arrest outside their facility. Consequently, any corrections officer running for Sheriff has no Law Enforcement experience other than dealing with persons already arrested by the REAL officers.
    If you want an honest, experienced leader, who is, in my estimation, beyond reproach, then take a long hard, and HONEST look at John Pollinger! I believe he is your best choice, and I’m sure he can straighten out what’s left of the FCSO after the fiasco of Manfre’s regime !

  23. Al Ruiz says:

    Don Fleming is a leader with a positive outlook on life. He is dedicated to the concerns of those he represents as well as those under his direction. Don is a decorated Vietnam veteran with 38 years devoted to law enforcement.

    Don has the experience and education needed to lead the department into a new direction. Mr. Fleming served as the Flagler County Sheriff from 2005-2013 and as Little Ferry, New Jersey Police Department Chief of Police from 1987-2001. He has an M.A. degree in Urban Studies.

    He feels that as a result of his experience that he can institute professionalism back to the department. His idea is to incorporate his new Flagship Program. This program would encourage a close bond between citizens and deputies by empowering deputies to solve problems versus the storm trooper effect. The Flagship Program would build respect and confidence by developing community-based partnerships to address the challenging circumstances of our time.

    In addition, Don’s new Flagship Program would raise the bar for recruitment and training that ensures the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office is one of the most efficient, up-to-date law enforcement agencies in the nation. In essence Mr. Fleming’s Flagship Program would develop a system that would bring pride back into the department and into our community at large.

  24. Since 1987 says:

    Just what we need, another “jersey guy.” Where is our local leadership, the ones that have been career deputies and leaders since the 80’s. Why must we always have the same broken record here of lawyer, retired chief from up north, lawyer, retired brass from another county, lawyer, retired chief from up north.

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