James Albert defeats Jonathan Held in Westmoreland sheriff race
Jonathan Held, Westmoreland County’s long-embattled sheriff, lost his bid for a third term in office Tuesday.
Democrat James Albert, a retired Greensburg district judge, defeated the Republican incumbent to bring an end to a tenure marred by a dozen discrimination lawsuits and pending criminal public corruption charges.
With all 305 precincts reporting, Albert had 53% of the vote compared to 47% for Held, according to unofficial results. More than 81,000 votes had been counted in the race. They were separated by 5,500 votes.
“It’s kind of obvious the voters were not happy with the sheriff’s office,” Albert said late Tuesday. “I credit the people who helped me. I came out of retirement because of the bad state, the tarnished nature of the sheriff’s office.”
Albert, 69, of New Alexandria previously worked as a Greensburg city police officer, a Westmoreland County detective and a deputy county sheriff.
Held, 45, of Hempfield is a former constable. In the May primary, he defeated three Republican primary challengers, including two deputies who work in his department.
Held congratulated Albert on his victory, saying he wished him luck as the new head of the department.
“I did do the best for the sheriff’s office for the past seven years, going on eight years,” he said. “You know, best of luck to the sheriff-elect, Jimmy Albert.”
Held repeated his claim that allegations leveled against him as sheriff will be proven false.
The sheriff’s department has been besieged with tumult since Held took office in 2012.
Disagreements with county commissioners over budgetary and hiring practices and legal issues dominated Held’s more than seven years in office. Held denied any wrongdoing both involving the civil lawsuits, which commissioners agreed to pay more than $500,000 to settle, and in the ongoing criminal case.
Held is appealing a ruling that paved the way for a retrial on public corruption charges based on allegations he directed on-duty staff to perform campaign chores for his 2015 re-election bid. A county jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict following a trial last December.
Albert has called Held’s administration of the sheriff’s office an “embarrassment” but, during the campaign, never offered any concrete corrective plans beyond a change of leadership. Albert advocated for an independent review of office operations to determine what changes are necessary.
The office employs about 70 full- and part-time deputies who are responsible for courtroom security, the transfer of inmates, warrant service and sale of foreclosed upon property.
Held defended his stewardship, saying the department operated under budget for seven consecutive years and claimed he saved taxpayers $3 million.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .