A tightly contested race for Dukes County sheriff and a wide-open race for the Dukes County Commission are among the choices Island voters will face in the state’s primary election Sept. 6.

Voters will also be choosing candidates for a variety of statewide races, including governor and lieutenant governor. Incumbent Gov. Charlie Baker and incumbent Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito are not seeking re-election.

On the Vineyard, the most closely-watched race pits incumbent Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden against retired Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake for a six-year term. Because both candidates are Democrats, the results of the primary all but guarantee a victory in November as there are no candidates on the Republican ballot.

The League of Women Voters of Martha’s Vineyard will hold a candidate forum with the two candidates on Aug. 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Oak Bluffs library.

The sheriff is responsible for the Dukes County jail and house of corrections as well as the Dukes County radio communications network, which coordinates emergency response around the Island.

​In an interview with the Gazette, Sheriff Ogden pointed to improvements to that system as one of his key accomplishments since first being elected to office in 2016.

In 2019 the sheriff’s office received a $7.1 million grant to build the system, which has resulted in a significant increase in coverage and more than 600 portable radios for first responders at no cost to the towns, Sheriff Ogden said.

“If you look back from what it was before to what it is today, [it’s] light years ahead. We’ve made such great progress,” he said.

If re-elected Sheriff Ogden said he wants to continue improving the communications system. The ultimate goal is to connect to the state’s Interoperable Radio System. Once the department is on that system, the state will pay for assessment and maintenance.

“We need to keep it going and momentum going to make sure that we still have that service moving forward,” Sheriff Ogden said.

Chief Blake retired from his job as Oak Bluffs police chief earlier this year after almost 20 years in the role.

As sheriff, he said he wants to serve as a connecting point between other Island police departments and work more closely with the various town boards as well as focusing on social services and rehabilitation.

In Oak Bluffs, Chief Blake started a chief’s advisory committee, which he said is something he wants to bring to the sheriff’s office. Made up of about six people who are meant to be representative of the Island’s make-up, the group will help Chief Blake better understand what their communities need and provide feedback on his agenda.

“It can’t be just yes people, your friends that agree with you. I’ll just go have coffee with them,” Chief Blake said.

Both candidates discussed the need to address the aging Edgartown jail. A completely new complex big enough to house the jail, sheriff’s office, trial court and state police barracks is likely about 10 years away, Sheriff Ogden said. If re-elected, he said he wants to refurbish the existing jail to add some space in a way that doesn’t disturb the broader area.

Chief Blake said consideration of a new jail is an opportunity to bring people from across the Island together to design something If that fits into the Island’s needs and character, he said.

“That’s consensus building, bringing every stakeholder, and I feel that’s the leadership quality I have,” Chief Blake said. “I won’t be operating in a vacuum, it’ll be what the community wants.”

​Here are other highlights from conversations with Sheriff Ogden and Chief Blake:

Sheriff Robert Ogden was elected to the office in 2016. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Sheriff Ogden

​A Lowell native, Sheriff Ogden first came to the Island as a summer beach patrol officer when he was 23 years old. Before being elected sheriff, he rose through the ranks and became special sheriff, the number-two officer in command. Sheriff Ogden is a member of the International Association of Police Chiefs and the Massachusetts Sheriff’s Association and has served on the board for multiple organizations focused on helping Island youth.

Of the sheriff’s job, he said, “There are so many facets of this, you have to manage all of them at once, but you also have to be a pretty adept lobbyist and advocate for our community.”

At the jail, Sheriff Ogden said he has increased social services with a focus on reducing recidivism, he said. Each inmate receives an individualized therapeutic care plan, with a caseworker coordinating individual care by mental health clinicians, recovery coaches and domestic violence counselors. Last year, the jail posted a zero per cent recidivism rate, he said.

“It does us no good to have someone sit in our facility with no services, no education and then put them back out on the street,” he said.

Sheriff Ogden also discontinued the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program and replaced it with the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program. The sheriff’s office couples classroom education with experiential learning to help at-risk Island youths, he said.

If re-elected, Sheriff Ogden said he wants to build on the rehabilitation-focused approach to corrections, including reinstituting an electronic monitoring program so people can continue to work while their case moves through the system and expanding access to medication proven to treat drug addiction.

“The old days of punitive justice – lock them up and throw away the key – that’s over. It’s all about restorative justice,” he said. “I really do believe that good people do bad things and bad people do good. It’s how we address those and have the cognitive skills to understand these things that they’ve done to overcome them is an important piece of restoring them to our community.”

Chief Blake

Erik Blake became Oak Bluffs police chief in 2003. — Mark Alan Lovewell

A lifelong Island resident, Chief Blake joined the Oak Bluffs police department in 1988. In 2003 the town appointed him its acting police chief and later permanent chief, a position he held until his retirement in June.

During his stint in Oak Bluffs, Chief Blake said he spent a significant amount of time working with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, an organization that brings together police leaders from around the world. Chief Blake is also a former president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and of the Martha’s Vineyard chapter of the NAACP and co-owns a gym in Vineyard Haven with his wife Catie.

Chief Blake said he feels as though his experience in Oak Bluffs qualifies him for the sheriff’s role. For a little less than a year, he simultaneously oversaw the town’s ambulance and emergency management departments in addition to his responsibilities as police chief.

“I feel like doing something that’s outside of that narrow scope of being a police chief I can handle,” he said. “I’ve done multiple things and I think the way I lead and govern is best suited for Martha’s Vineyard.”

If elected, Chief Blake wants to hire social workers and psychologists to the department staff, he said. The mental health professionals will be tasked with assisting inmates at the jail and will be ready to respond to a call for help should a town department need it.

“[Police] are not psychologists, they’re not doctors, so you need somewhere there to say, ‘Yeah, this is appropriate,’” he said.

Chief Blake said he is also a supporter of restorative justice, a response to crime that brings together victim and perpetrator to focus on healing rather than punishment and rehabilitation for Islanders who find themselves in trouble with the law.

“Every possible program, person, assistance that we have will be thrown out there to make sure that the recidivism rate is, truly, because we did a good job,” he said.

County Commission

All seven seats are open on the Dukes County Commission, but only three people completed the paperwork in time to have their names appear on the primary and general election ballots.

Incumbent commissioners Don Leopold of Chilmark, Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs and R. Peter Wharton, also of Oak Bluffs, are candidates for re-election on the Democratic primary ballot for two-year terms on the commission. There are no candidates on the Republican primary ballot.

By law, not more than two commissioners can reside in the same town.

Another incumbent, Tristan Israel of Tisbury, said Thursday he is mounting a write-in campaign for reeelection as a Democrat after his paperwork was rejected on a technicality.

“People don’t really understand what we do, but I think that we’re doing some good stuff up there – most of it in human and social services,” Mr. Israel said in a phone interview.

Dukes County Manager Martina Thornton said the other three incumbent commissioners, Leon Brathwaite of West Tisbury, John Cahill of Tisbury and Keith Chatinover of Edgartown, have opted not to run for re-election, and no other candidates have come forward.

Write-in candidates who receive at least 25 votes in the primary have the opportunity to have their names printed on the November ballot, said Debra O’Malley, a spokesperson for Secretary of State William Galvin. However, they would need to write a letter accepting the nomination and file a statement of financial interest with the state ethics commission within two days of the primary, she said.

If the November ballot has fewer than seven candidates, the remaining positions would be filled by write-ins, with no minimum votes required.

"You could theoretically win with one vote if no one else had one vote,” Ms. O’Malley said.

• Complete ballot and voting information is posted on the Gazette website at vineyardgazette.com.