New job for Jeff Perry: special sheriff

Choice follows defeat in congressional race

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By Sean P. Murphy
Globe Staff / January 25, 2011

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Jeffrey D. Perry, the former state representative who narrowly lost in a hard-fought campaign for Congress last year, has been appointed by a fellow Republican to the position of special sheriff of Barnstable County.

In assuming the $110,000-a-year post yesterday, Perry, of Sandwich, became the top assistant to James M. Cummings, the elected Barnstable County sheriff since 1998. The position had been vacant for two years.

Cummings, 61, a Republican, is a friend and political supporter of Perry’s, having contributed to Perry’s campaigns since 2002, when he first ran successfully for state representative. Cummings said in an interview that he chose Perry for the position because of Perry’s broad experience on Beacon Hill, as a former police officer, and as an attorney.

“That’s all good,’’ Cummings said.

In an interview, Perry said he wanted to be back in public service, particularly in the arena of public safety, because of his background as a police officer in Wareham for eight years in the 1990s and as a former ranking member of the House Public Safety Committee, where he worked on bringing the county sheriffs’ departments under the supervision of the executive branch.

“It’s a perfect fit,’’ Perry said of the special sheriff’s position, which will include some legal work.

Perry fills a slot that has gone vacant for two years at a time of shrinking resources at the sheriff’s department because of budget cuts. Perry acknowledged that the position could be helpful if he ran again for elective office, but he ruled out a another campaign for Congress in 2012.

“I’ve got politics in my blood,’’ he said. “But this is a longer-term commitment to the sheriff.’’

John Walsh, state Democratic Party chairman, released a statement yesterday criticizing the appointment.

“This is disturbing news from Barnstable County, and the voters deserve a very quick explanation,’’ the statement said. “Just days after Sheriff James Cummings said he needed more funds to run the jail, Cummings has hired unsuccessful congressional candidate Jeff Perry to a fill a long-vacant $110,000 position. Which is it? You either have the funds to fill this position or you don’t.’’

Perry, 47, said this was not a political reward from a fellow Republican for a spirited run for Congress, one he lost to William R. Keating, the former Norfolk district attorney. Perry was considered by some the GOP’s best hope of breaking the Democratic lock on the state’s US House delegation.

“This isn’t in any way a thank-you for running for Congress,’’ Perry said.

In fact, Perry and Cummings said the position was discussed long before Perry decided to run for the 10th District, which extends from Quincy to Cape Cod. Those discussions began when Perry, honoring a commitment to serve only four terms as state representative, announced he would not seek reelection to a fifth term in 2010.

Perry’s primary and general election opponents in the congressional race made a central issue of his role, as a Wareham police sergeant in the 1990s, in two illegal strip-searches of teenage girls by an officer under his command. While Perry was not charged or disciplined, Keating and his allies launched a barrage of negative ads and mailers that targeted the Republican candidate as untrustworthy.

Two weeks before the general election, one of the victims broke her long silence to speak out against Perry, saying he was not fit for office because he failed to stop the assault.

Cummings said he anticipated criticism of Perry’s appointment, and as a result hired Robert Schlabach, a former FBI agent, to investigate the strip-search cases. Schlabach found that Perry did not cover up the incidents and did not “stand by’’ while they happened, Cummings said.

“I was entirely satisfied,’’ Cummings said.

Schlabach did not return a telephone call.

Perry said he is one of the few people who know the truth of the two incidents.

“And I would not subject myself to this kind of public scrutiny if there was anything there,’’ he said.

One top deputy to Cummings, David Vieira of Falmouth, recently resigned after being elected to the state House of Representatives, allowing Cummings to fund the special sheriff’s position in part with that money.

Perry’s appointment may mean a considerably larger pension for him, because it would qualify him to retire with an enhanced pension reserved for police, firefighters, and correction officers.

“Everybody thinks about the financial condition of their families, but for me pension was not a consideration,’’ Perry said.

Sean Murphy can be reached a