Harig again draws on rural strength

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Mark Harig became the winner of tight competition for the open Freeborn County Sheriff’s seat. The former detective beat Albert Lea City Police Lieutenant Phil Bartusek by 610 votes, relying on strong support in rural areas.

&uot;I’m overwhelmed,&uot; Harig said in his room at the Albert Lea Days Inn, where he heard the results that did not become clear until the last precinct votes arrived. &uot;I didn’t know if this could happen. I didn’t know if I could win. I felt confident and encouraged. The people were nice. They gave me a lot of good comments and stuff, but I had no idea when you run against a friend and strong opponent like Phil was.&uot;

Harig attributed his victory to the campaign he described as a common-people approach.

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&uot;I think, you know, that’s what I fit in. I’m not a rich man, and I don’t hang around with rich people because I’ve never been that way. Common people are the people I’ve always worked with. Without their support, I certainly would not have won this election,&uot; he said.

Bartusek stressed in his campaign that he would build a strong partnership between law enforcement and various community organizations. He has been with the Albert Lea police for 20 years and promoted the department’s community outreach by implementing the tobacco and alcohol compliance program and bike patrol, among others.

Harig, in contrast, has been on the front lines of investigation. During the last 10 years of his 29-year career in the sheriff’s office, he was a full-time investigator for narcotics crimes in the South Central Drug Investigative Unit. Harig put his experience and expertise forward in his campaign, emphasizing that the reduction of crime stems from strong enforcement on drugs.

&uot;I think the people are very concerned about drug dealers. We do have to get back and proactively go after them,&uot; Harig said. &uot;I think that was the big point that helped me. My exerience working narcotics plus my approach wanting to get back and do that proactively have resulted in the support I got.&uot;

The difference in their organizational origin and approach for dealing with crimes were characterized in a sharp division of people’s support between Albert Lea and the rest of the county: Harig won in 28 precincts out of 34 in the rural areas, while Bartusek outweighed Harig in five wards out of six in Albert Lea.

That trend was already clear in the September primary where Bartusek managed a 31-vote win. Since then, both candidates tried to cultivate the area where they had a weakness.

Bartusek said, &uot;Mark had a great campaign. Obviously, I’m disappointed with the result. We have to move forward from here. I am looking forward to working with the new sheriff.&uot;