There are still Election Night aftershocks from the end of the four-decade straight Republican run in Delaware County.
Much of the attention was focused on the County Council race, but the bout for sheriff, although not the title fight, packed a major historical punch.
Jerry Sanders ousted incumbent Mary McFall Hooper and the win makes the Drexel Hill resident the first African-American in Delaware County history to serve in a county row office and the first time since 1934 that a Democrat won that office.
Sanders, 68, rose through the ranks in the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office starting as a deputy sheriff. He retired in 1995 as a chief inspector. He is currently an associate minister at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Philadelphia and chaplain of Deer Meadows Retirement Community.
Sanders met with The Spirit last week to discuss his life in the ministry which started in the 80s, the historic Election Night, and his plans for office.
SPIRIT: What intrigues you about Deer Meadows?
Sanders: We start out as babies not being able to walk or feed ourselves and it’s a return to infirmity. The blessing in it, is (that) you can’t talk to an elderly person for five minutes without hearing a testimony of life. I have a lot of ‘wow’ moments. I just see beams of light walking around Deer Meadows in terms of (people’s) attitudes and how pleasant they are.
This was your first campaign. What was your biggest challenge?
I see these things as a joint effort and shared responsibility for all of us. I need everyone. I need them in order to attain the office. The receptiveness of the shared responsibility of people going to the voting booth and showing they realize they were part of this.
What do you hope to accomplish as sheriff?
I don’t have any preconceived notions about the office. I know generally what the responsibilities are. I want to go in with an open mind and hear from the deputies. I want to see what they do. I have a point of reference from my previous experience from which to evaluate what is being done. I would like to, after hearing and seeing, use that experience to know what has served its purpose and what we can fine-tune.
What does it mean to be the first African-=American row officer in Delaware County history?
It means a lot to me. I want to absorb every aspect of this great moment in my life. One aspect is for my family, for those who need it in the community and the African-American community. I’m a sheriff-elect because of the people of Delaware County. I’m a not sheriff-elect because of Black people or white people. I’m a sheriff-elect because of people of all colors. I didn’t do this by myself. I asked and people gave their vote. It was a collective effort and that’s the beauty of it.
Sum up Election Night at the Swarthmore Inn where the Democrats gathered.
Waiting to exhale. Everyone was doing it in his or her own way. You could see it in their faces. We were looking at each other because we wanted to absorb every moment, facial expression, watery eye, and hug. While doing that, we were experiencing our own personal moment but didn’t want to miss each other’s.
A big part of the sheriff’s job is inherently unpopular – sheriff sales, warrants, criminal court, etc. How will you deal with this?
I plan to continue to be out in the community. This is a problem that has to be attacked from all sides. There are no quick fixes. You have to look at education, taxes, substance abuse, etc. People don’t aspire for opioid abuse. Things happen. There are missteps. All these things affect criminal justice. One moment where you forget yourself and do something stupid, you are in the justice system.
In the courtroom, that’s the last chapter of a bad story. Even at the end, there has to be some type of rehabilitation, not just punitive.
If my deputy has a warrant and there is a kid in the room, let them take (the kid) out of the room. You are imprinting at all times.
What makes you most proud to be a Drexel Hill resident?
I love that every neighbor knocked on my door when I moved to Drexel Hill. Cakes were brought! This is the beauty of community. When I take the branches out and the neighbor offers their chipper…these are the things money can’t buy.