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Jefferson Co. candidate could be first female elected sheriff in NYS history

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Jefferson Co. candidate could be first female elected sheriff in NYS history
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JEFFERSON COUNTY, N.Y. -- Ray Peterson is the political go-to at Jefferson Community College in Watertown.

The political science professor said the Jefferson County sheriff's race will be one he's watching closely because of Democratic candidate Colleen O'Neill. No woman has ever been elected as a sheriff in New York State history.

"It can be a win-some, lose-some sort of proposition because some folks that have progressive mind will say we have a chance to make history here," Peterson said. "Then there will be people of a more conservative, traditional mindset that may question just based upon gender."

"I really want the voters to know my qualifications for the job," O'Neill said. "I really don't think the election should about gender, race or ethnicity or anything like that."

As for those qualifications, O'Neill has 28 years with the state police before retiring as a senior investigator in Alex Bay. Her father, Al, served eight years as the Jefferson County sheriff as well.

She said she's learned the job in and out and has the leadership skills to thrive. Even so, as this campaign season goes on, she's also learning she can't ignore that potential history.

"I might be the role model that the first women troopers were when I was a young girl," O'Neill said.

It's exactly that belief that other female leaders think will help women continue to break down barriers.

"When I hear about a candidate running for sheriff, it's exciting because I want more women in leadership," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said.

Despite all of that though, O'Neill says she still doesn't think about much while out and about, preferring to focus on getting out that message and those qualifications. That is exactly what Peterson says will help her overcome any of those traditional thoughts.

O'Neill though isn't the only Democrat in the race. Current Undersheriff Paul Trudeau is running. Republicans have former Watertown and Portland, Ore., officer John Bocciolatt as its only candidate.

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