There won't be a new sheriff in town, at least for another six years, after Frank Cousins Jr., handily defeated challengers Damian Anketell, a Peabody Democrat, and independent candidate Kevin Leach of Manchester, to win his third term as Essex County sheriff.
"It's really about everybody's hard work to make it happen for all the citizens of Essex County," a jubilant Cousins told family, friends and supporters inside a packed Starboard Restaurant in Newburyport.
Cousins, a Newburyport Republican, won his first term in November 1998, two years after he was appointed by then-Gov. William Weld. He won his second term in November 2004.
As of press time, Cousins had won 32 of the 36 communities, with four communities still unaccounted for. "It's going to be a sweep in every single town," Cousins declared, eliciting a booming reaction from the boisterous crowd.
Cousins enjoyed huge wins in many communities, even those where Republican Charlie Baker won in the governor's race. In Peabody, where Anketell lives, Cousins won by an almost 2-to-1 margin.
As election results came in, supporters cheered loudly as a campaign worker wrote in the numbers on a large white board. Even as there were many towns unaccounted for, supporters surrounded Cousins, shaking his hand and congratulating him.
Cousins said the road to victory started in January when he began amassing signatures and signing up volunteers to serve as captains for each Essex County community.
"It's all about we took it seriously from the beginning," Cousins said. "Working hard and reaching out."
Cousins vowed to continue working hard and practicing the best policies for all Essex County residents on a daily basis.
Anketell, a former corrections officer who worked for Cousins, hosted a gathering at Supino's in Danvers. As of press time, he had yet to concede the race but said he would be calling Cousins to offer his congratulations.
"I feel great; we had a great race," Anketell said. "How can you not have a great time when you meet thousands of people in Essex County?"
Leach, a former Essex County commissioner, could not be reached for comment.
As Essex County sheriff, Cousins runs the Middleton Jail and eight other detention and rehabilitation facilities. He supervises 540 employees and oversees more than 2,000 inmates, including those awaiting trials, those already serving sentences and some federal inmates.
The state agency has a budget of about $50 million per year, but has been hit hard by layoffs and budget cuts as the state struggled through the recession.