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Leigh logs Lawrence to Lynn on foot

The Daily Item - 8/15/2022

Aug. 15—During the press conference, Leigh stood in front of a sign bearing Coppinger's name and rolled out her ten-point plan for change in the Sheriff's Department. Much of Leigh's campaign has focused on the idea that the sheriff's job has shifted since its inception and the need for a sheriff with a law enforcement background like Coppinger, who was the chief of police in Lynn before running for sheriff, no longer exists.

"The reality is people ... are ready for something different because our taxpayer dollars deserve it and our public safety deserves it," Leigh said in a brief interview following the press conference.

Coppinger has countered Leigh's vision for the sheriff's department by noting that as the overseer of the county's jail, the sheriff is responsible not just for the care of those serving shorter sentences but also for those who may have committed serious crimes like murder and are awaiting trial, creating a need for a sheriff with a law enforcement background.

Leigh rejected that notion, and said she has provided treatment for multiple individuals charged with murder during her time as a social worker.

"It makes the assumption that people are not capable of providing care and treatment who don't have a law enforcement background but the actual job of care and custody is human services work," she said.

Middleton was selected as the venue for the press conference not just because it represented a midpoint along the walk but also because it serves as a focal point of Leigh's priorities.

"This is where people that I care about are. Correctional officers are right behind these doors. Prisoners are right behind these doors. Victims are expecting to have their day in court and they need for people who are right behind these doors to arrive safely and well to their court dates," Leigh said.

Leigh likened the need for the sheriff to be a social worker to the need for a school principal to be an educator.

"I wouldn't want my child to go to a school with a principal who had no teaching experience, because the actual job and goal of that school is education. Yes, there are janitors. Yes, there's custodial staff. Yes, there's dining staff. Yes, there's all kinds of other professionals who work and spend their time there, but the central job is educating," Leigh said. "Here the central job is rehabilitation. And if it's not, then we all lose out."

At the press conference and ensuing lunch, Leigh was joined by a small crowd — roughly two dozen people, a handful of whom had accompanied her on the first leg of the walk, which spanned approximately 14 miles. An even smaller crowd joined Leigh for the remaining journey.

Among those who joined Leigh for the press conference and lunch were Salem City Councilors Lev McClain and Andy Varela, who represent Ward 4 and Ward 7, respectively. Varela said he supports Leigh's vision for the sheriff's office because he believes the current system isn't working.

"We do need a change when it comes to our sheriff and I really believe that Virginia Leigh can really steward that change and it really comes to recidivism and rehabilitation and I really think we need a different opportunity and someone else in that position because it's important," Varela said. "What we have now is not working and we need to change."

McClain echoed Varela — saying he believed that there is a need to reassess the meaning of criminal justice.

"People are not satisfied with where we've come from. People are not satisfied with how our criminal justice system works. They're looking for a new model. They're looking for a new vision," McClain said. "The idea of having somebody who is a clinical social worker, psychologically trained really makes a lot of sense in that manner, especially when you're talking about recidivism. You have to address peoples' emotional well-being, their psychological well-being, and you have to create real opportunity for them when they actually get out of the prison."

"When you come from a law enforcement background, you come from a background of 'I deal with criminals.' With Virginia, I get the real clear message all the time that she deals with human beings ... and she's going to work on those conditions to get them back into a productive place," he continued.

At Frederick Douglass Park Sunday evening, Leigh and the roughly half-dozen walkers accompanying her received a warm welcome from a handful of supporters and campaign staff — as well as those driving by, many of whom honked their horns.

Leigh gathered the roughly two dozen people assembled on the park and asked them to share what it would mean to them if the justice system truly centered rehabilitation — responses varied but many said they felt as though rehabilitation being at the center of the justice system would reduce the rate of recidivism, or the rate at which those who commit crimes do so again upon being released.

The walk was a success, Leigh said, and proved that "when we connect, we connect as human beings."

"When we really recognize the goal lies in our mutual best interest, the sky is the limit," she said.

Charlie McKenna can be reached at


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