San Mateo County Election : Dead Sheriff’s Candidacy Keeps Race for Office Alive

Times Staff Writer

Brendan Maguire stands a good chance of being reelected sheriff of wealthy, woodsy San Mateo County on Tuesday.

That may not sound unusual, but consider that Brendan Maguire is dead.

And the oddest thing of all is that even if Maguire wins Tuesday’s vote, no one may ever know about it.

Maguire, 53, suffered a heart attack and died April 21 in the middle of an election campaign that he--and many others--expected to earn him his second term in office.


‘Kind of a Folk Hero’

“He was extremely well-liked and very popular,” said William Ward, a real estate investment executive and Maguire’s campaign manager. “He was kind of a folk hero in San Mateo County. He was a well-liked, Irish-born bear of a man.”

The sheriff’s death left only one candidate in the race, James White, a 31-year-old former San Diego County resident who now works as a guard at the U.S. Mint in San Francisco.

White had earned the enmity of Maguire’s supporters by accusing the sheriff of corruption and by suing Maguire after being denied a gun permit. White also is criticized for his lack of experience in the Sheriff’s Department, and for his involvement in an El Cajon shooting incident when he was still a juvenile 16 years ago.


Not long after Maguire died, his backers set out to deny White the election by default.

Using the help of Dist. Atty. James Fox and the support of the county Board of Supervisors, they pushed a special bill through the Legislature postponing the election until August and allowing new candidates to join the race.

White sued, contending that the new law was not an attempt to give voters a choice, as its backers said, but was instead an obvious effort to deny him the election.

Four state Supreme Court justices decided May 23 that until the state Court of Appeal can judge the constitutionality of the delayed election, the regular election should be held--with one proviso.


The justices ordered that ballots cast Tuesday be impounded; the results of that voting will be announced only if the Court of Appeal rules that a special election in August is forbidden by state law.

With Tuesday’s balloting resurrected, the late sheriff’s supporters renewed his campaign in hopes of getting Maguire reelected and thus forcing the county supervisors to order a special election next March.

If they succeed, it would not be the first time that a candidate is elected posthumously.

In 1962, Rep. Clem Miller (D-Corte Madera) successfully defended his congressional seat against challenger Don Clausen more than a month after being killed in a plane crash near Eureka.


The same has happened several times since, most recently on May 13, when a Rushville, Neb., man won a primary race for a position on the Sheridan County Board of Commissioners even though he had died the day before the election.

“This election has been a ball of snakes,” moaned Marvin Church, the San Mateo County clerk.

He’s not the only one upset.

‘Can’t Debate a Dead Man’


“I can’t debate a dead man,” said White, adding that he is even reluctant to criticize Maguire for fear that he may spark an emotional backlash and cost himself votes in what many people believe will still be a close election.

“We are still doing all the things you do to get somebody elected,” Ward said. “We have people walking precincts, putting up posters, making telephone calls and placing ads.”

Not surprisingly, Ward said campaign workers sometimes meet resistance.

“There are some people who say they don’t want to waste their votes” on a man who cannot serve, he said. “We’re saying, ‘How can you waste your vote if it gives you a choice of 15 candidates instead of one?’ ”


Ward said that argument seems to work.

“I think we have a very good chance,” he said. “I really do.”