Rural-urban split characterizes race for county sheriff

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Phil Bartusek and Mark Harig made it past the primary election for Freeborn County Sheriff Tuesday, but the results suggest a close race in November, with only 31 votes separating the two victorious candidates in the primary.

The primary election narrowed down sheriff candidates to Albert Lea Police Department Lieutenant Bartusek and retired Sheriff’s Office Supervisor/Investigator Harig, leaving out Sheriff’s Office Supervisor/Investigator Bob Kindler.

The polling pattern of the two candidates was distinct. Bartusek led Harig by 444 votes in Albert Lea, while Harig overwhelmed Bartusek in the rest of the county.

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Among 34 precincts in townships and incorporated cities, Harig surpassed the other candidates in 24 precincts. Bartusek won in seven precincts, Kindler two, and Harig and Bartusek shared the top spot in Newry Township.

&uot;I am looking forward to getting out and talking to the people about the issues we need to talk about,&uot; Bartusek said. Being dominant in Albert Lea but overwhelmed by Harig in the rural areas, Bartusek said he would vigorously continue his countywide door-knocking campaign.

&uot;I will continue pushing my messages,&uot; Bartusek said. He has been employing &uot;partnership building&uot; as a central idea of his candidacy. He proposes to consolidate cooperation among the Sheriff’s Office, other law enforcement agencies and various citizen organizations.

Harig said the strong support he received proves the increasing anxiety about drug issues in the county, which he has promised to tackle.

Regarding Bartusek’s lead in the city, Harig said it was natural because of Bartusek’s presence as a city police officer. Emphasizing his experience as an investigator specialized in narcotics crimes, Harig aims to reach out to constituents in urban areas where the drug problem is more intense.

Kindler has stressed his extensive experience in the Sheriff’s Office and proven administrative skills. Last week, he sent out postcards in which incumbent Sheriff Don Nolander gave his endorsement.

The announcement by Nolander not to run for reelection made this Sheriff’s race the first open-seat election since 1966, in which Merrill Korthonar and Holland Laak played a head-to-head battle. Korthonar won by a slim margin of 162 votes. The officials could not announce the result until 5 a.m. the day following the election because of the close margin.

A 32-year-old Albert Lea woman said after voting Tuesday, &uot;I feel comfortable with Bartusek because I saw him in many events held in our community.&uot;

A young female voter said, &uot;I expect the new Sheriff to be strict against crime. I feel Harig is most suitable.&uot;