Stan Barry and James Vickery were close friends once. When the two were starting their careers as sheriff' deputies they were roommates, sharing a condo in Herndon.
"He and I used to be best friends," recalled Barry.
"Stan Barry and I worked the same squad back then," said Vickery.
Now, however, they are locked in an electoral battle for the sheriff's seat, with the showdown due Nov. 4.
Barry, Democrat and the current sheriff, is aiming for a second term in office while Vickery, a retired deputy who was the second-in-command under Carl Peed, Barry's Republican predecessor who Barry ousted, is vying to unseat him.
The contest has become personal as the two have resurrected old grievances from within the agency. Barry, for instance, said Peed fired him after he announced his candidacy in 1999. Since then, he said, Vickery has never spoken to him.
"It is, of course, the sheriff's prerogative and that's the decision he made," said Barry. "I certainly try not to harbor any grudges against anyone."
Barry won the 1999 election because of considerable behind-the-scenes help from the father, former state Sen. Warren Barry (R), said Vickery.
"His father bought him the election," said Vickery.
The rhetoric is heating up, with Vickery accusing Barry of mismanagement, patronage and wasteful spending in the Sheriff's Office.
"I don't trust Stan and I don't trust anything he's going to say," said Vickery. "He's essentially running a gulag in Fairfax County."
"We just have different management philosophies," said Barry, adding that he hasn't started his campaign in earnest yet.
SHERIFF'S DEPUTIES in Fairfax County have a limited law enforcement role. They are in charge of the county jail, serve as courtroom deputies and serve subpoenas. Although the sheriff is a partisan office, up for a general election every four years, the races hinge more on the candidates' managerial style than on their politics. Unless they are inmates, deputies or attorneys who all spend a lot of time in the jail, most county residents will never have the opportunity to see for themselves how effective the sheriff is in running the agency.
Vickery calls the Sheriff's Office a "hybrid organization."
It's "not political, not totally administrative," he said.
For Barry, the election is more of a referendum on his performance in the past four years. "If it seems to the voters that things have been going pretty well in the county hopefully they'll give me another four years."
The agency's particular position makes it difficult to explain why the June 10 Republican primary for sheriff was so close with Vickery edging out Police Commander Tyrone Morrow with 51.3 percent of the vote.
"People were voting for chairman and sheriff was also countywide so while they were voting for chairman they also were voting for sheriff," said Barry. "30,000 people, I assure you, were not drawn out to vote for sheriff in the primary."
Vickery said he won because the issues he brought up resonated with voters.
"When I started talking about the role of the sheriff's office, clearly that had an impact," he said.
Morrow said he was surprised by the results. "I didn't think we were neck and neck at all. I thought I was ahead."
WITH VICKERY, the GOP candidate and Barry the Democratic candidate, this year's race is starting to acquire overtones of the 1999 campaign when Barry beat Peed.
Barry was endorsed by all the employee organizations, which believed the Peed administration "had really lost touch with the staff," according to Chris Heflin, president of the sheriff's Local 5016, which represents about 200 deputies.
This year, Vickery has made it clear he does not want the endorsement of any employee organization to remove even the suspicion of patronage from his campaign. That has irked Heflin, who takes it to mean that Vickery is not interested in the opinion of rank and file deputies.
"Jim [Vickery] was not interested in seeking the approval of the staff there and that very well may be telling," said Heflin.
If Vickery had sought endorsements, it is unclear what the outcome would be.
"Jim had 20 years of experience there in the office and so he has formed somewhat of a reputation there," said Heflin.
Vickery is more blunt. The employees don't like him, he said, because they find him arrogant.
"I've got a pretty aggressive opinion and I don't mind sharing it," he said. But he added he planned to meet with employee groups before the November election.
Local 5016 endorsed Morrow in the primary.
"The 1999 election was as much a referendum on [Vickery] as it was on the former sheriff," said Barry, adding that Vickery's decision not to seek any endorsement this year is "based pretty much on what happened in '99."