Campaigning amid COVID-19
By Samantha Lyles
Anyone on friendly terms with Darlington County Sheriff Tony Chavis knows his preferred method of greeting is a warm hug. But as he campaigns for re-election during the COVID-19 pandemic, the sheriff has had to step back and adopt slightly cooler methods.
“It’s tough to try and campaign during this period of time. We’re on the phone, we’re on social media … We’re trying to meet with people while still being mindful of the social distancing guidelines,” says Chavis.
Four years ago, when he ran against incumbent Wayne Byrd, Chavis did most of the groundwork himself, riding across the county in his pickup truck, shaking hands, hugging necks and planting campaign signs. This time around, he says he’s fortunate to have a group of volunteers pitching in to help. Those volunteers are stepping up to organize campaign events that allow Chavis to speak one-on-one with citizens without forming large groups.
The first such event happened on Sunday, May 10, as the Chavis campaign distributed over 900 chicken bog plates at a unique meet & greet held at Darlington’s Bethel AME Church. County residents drove up to the church annex building and spoke with the sheriff, who hand delivered free lunches through their vehicle windows.
In addition to the core work of patrol, investigation, and crime prevention, Chavis says that the DCSO continues to conduct various community outreach efforts. These include a summer cooling program that distributes donated fans and air conditioners to citizens in need, the “Hello Neighbor” program that last year provided over 800 Thanksgiving meals to homebound persons and senior citizens, and various programs to ensure children in need receive cold weather clothing and Christmas gifts.
“You want to do things to build bridges in the community, and I think we’ve been able to do that,” says Chavis. “But at the same time, you have to do the sheriff’s work.”
Chavis says the DCSO is preparing for an unprecedented amount of activity at the Darlington Raceway. On May 17 and 20, the track will host NASCAR Cup Series racing, with an Xfinity Series race on May 19. Even though these races are closed to the public, the DCSO will team with other agencies to secure the track against trespassers by providing a 24-hour law enforcement presence.
“NASCAR is making it’s comeback starting with Darlington…. We’re going to have three races within four days. We along with the Darlington Raceway will be sending out information urging all those folks who love racing to stay at home, cook out, and watch with their families because these events are for racetrack personnel and drivers and crews only,” Chavis says.
The sheriff says his people are up to this unique task and offers nothing but praise for his officers, saying they have all responded well to the challenge of being first responders during our nation’s first modern pandemic.
“Nobody’s calling in and saying they don’t want to come to work, that they’re afraid of catching the virus. They do their jobs, and we’re very fortunate to have that kind of dedication… I’m proud of them,” he says.
Chavis says that thanks to hard work by those deputies, Darlington County’s crime statistics are down almost across the board – excepting murder which, he says, has recently ticked upward nationwide. Though the DCSO is currently fully staffed, Chavis says he will be asking for more officers in the coming budget year.
In the meantime, the June 9 primary showdown against challenger James Hudson draws closer. Chavis is hopeful that with the next session of the state legislature, more restrictions will be lifted and some sort of rallies could be organized by the end of May.
“We’re hoping things will get back to normal so we can go out and meet with folks prior to the June 9 date, but we’re going to defer to the governor and DHEC best judgment in this situation,” Chavis says. “I think all the other candidates who are running for office this year are doing the same thing. We don’t want to get sick, and we don’t want anyone else to get sick.”
To learn more, visit @SheriffTonyChavis on Facebook.