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Republican Lowell Cannaday Hopes to Unseat Sheriff Valdez

By Bill Zeeble, KERA Reporter

Dallas, TX – In the highest profile race of Dallas County, first-term Sheriff Lupe Valdez faces Republican challenger and retired Irving Police Chief, Lowell Cannaday. In our look at each candidate, KERA's Bill Zeeble reports on Cannaday, who began his police career in Dallas.

Lowell Cannaday, 71, is in his element, meeting and greeting voters before the recent Duncanville Chamber of Commerce debate with Sheriff Valdez. Cannaday has been a chamber of commerce member since the '80s when he worked for the Dallas Police Department.

Cannaday: I started with the East Dallas Chamber of Commerce as Central Division Commander. The Oak Cliff Chamber when I was a Commander of Southwest. When I moved to Irving, I joined the Chamber there. They're straightforward with you, particularly in a chamber meeting. If they're happy about things, or want more emphasis on other things.

In one of the longest Dallas County Sheriff's campaigns in recent memory, Cannaday's been running for more than a year and a half, banking on four decades of law enforcement experience and two years of political skills gained on the Irving City Council. He resigned his seat, which his wife now holds, to seek the Sheriff's post. He beat former Sheriff Jim Bowles to win the Republican nomination.

Cannaday: What we need in Dallas County is experienced leadership. And we need someone who's a relationship builder, someone who can build coalitions, someone that has the experience in developing plans, putting budgets together, working with people and establishing internal/external relationships that'll compliment the type of job that needs to be done in the sheriff's department.

The biggest job, says Cannaday, is running the County Jail that's failed federal inspection five straight years, beginning the year before Sheriff Valdez took over. Cannaday doesn't buy the Sheriff's explanation that she inherited huge problems there, which have taken years and millions of dollars to improve. Cannaday calls her an amateur and points out that all four of the Sheriff's Department law enforcement unions support him, not Valdez. Mike Ramirez, President of the Latino Peace Officers Association, explains his group's endorsement.

Mike Ramirez, President of the Latino Peace Officers Association: You vote for the best qualified person at hand. In this hand, Lowell Cannaday is the best candidate to get this department moving forward.

Valdez and the U.S. Department of Justice disagree and say the jail's much better than it used to be. Here's what the State's jail inspector, Adan Munoz, told KERA in an interview last April.

Adan Munoz: There is in fact some progress. I've seen some vast improvement, but is it fast enough? It just depends on whose eyes it is.

In the past few weeks, the Department of Justice affirmed jail improvements. Lead inspector Leonard Rice said he continued to be impressed with the level of dedication to making improvements that could be a showcase for other jails in the country. Still, Cannaday says past accomplishments demonstrate his ability to lead. While still in Dallas, he set up the first gang unit. As Irving Police Chief, he oversaw construction of five major police buildings and developed and implemented a family advocacy center. But Sheriff Valdez points out that during Cannaday's tenure as Police Chief, Irving vehicle thefts went up nearly 50 percent. At a recent debate, she said more.

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez: In past appearances, you repeatedly have said that you alone can bring leadership to the sheriff's department. Yet during your leadership of Irving's police department...robbery rose 24 percent and assaults increased 20 percent.

Cannaday countered that over his 10 years, Irving property crimes rose just one percent. Numbers don't deter his supporters like Chris Davis, a Dallas County Republican party member. Davis was at a Dallas County GOP meeting the other night.

Chris Davis, Dallas County GOP member: Because he's qualified, because he's experienced and because he's a decent and honorable man. That's just a fringe benefit.

Cannaday faces an uphill climb in Dallas because the county is increasingly voting Democratic. He believes enough of those party voters will split their tickets and choose him because he's proven he has the experience to do the job.