CHAPEL HILL- The half-dozen men running to be Orange County’s next sheriff have been eyeing the job for a long time.

“Sheriff Pendergrass got me started in this,” says candidate Buddy Parker. “He asked me when I was 15 years old what I wanted to do with my life and I basically told him that one day I would have his job.”

Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass has held the position for more than 30 years, so when he announced last fall that he was not seeking reelection, a flood of hopefuls surged forward. In addition to Parker, the candidates who filed to run are Charles Blackwood, Andy Cagle, David Caldwell, Larry Faucette and Keith Webster.

Blackwood says the crowded contest is to be expected.

“I used to make the joke that when the Sheriff finally did decide to call it quits, it would look like the time trials at the Daytona 500, and it has certainly proven to be that way,” says Blackwood. “In fact, I’m surprised there are not more people running.”

Blackwood retired from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in 2012 after a thirty-two year career that culminated in serving as Major of Operations.

Larry Faucette is also a veteran of the Sheriff’s department; he retired as a captain and now coaches at Cedar Ridge High School.

David Caldwell served 22 years in the department. Since retiring he’s helped spearhead the efforts of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association to lobby for the county to close the landfill and extend sewer service to the area.

Keith Webster has 21 years in law enforcement, and has worked with both the Sheriff’s Office and the Hillsborough Police Department. He’s currently a lieutenant with the Carrboro Police.

Buddy Parker has been with the Hillsborough Police for 19 years; he serves as sergeant supervising a patrol squad.

And though five of the candidates have law enforcement experience, Andy Cagle, owner and operator of Cagle’s Corner Grading, Hauling and Septic Systems in Efland, says his decades as a local businessman will serve him well if elected.

“I’m going to look at things a little different,” says Cagle. “I don’t have any law enforcement [experience], but I do have a strong sense of what’s right and what’s wrong.”

The candidates are quick to praise retiring Sheriff Pendergrass, but most say it’s time to modernize the department. They call for improved cooperation with other agencies, increased diversity in hiring, adoption of new technologies and a focus on addressing drug related property crimes throughout the county.

With six Democratic candidates and no Republicans, the race will be decided in the May 6 primary. The contest might have continued until November, but two candidates, Parker and Cagle, switched party affiliations in recent years.

Parker has run for sheriff twice in the past decade as a Republican, but he says his decision to register as a Democrat has nothing to do with getting elected.

“It has nothing to do with the race,” says Parker. “It’s a personal decision that I made and I’d like to leave it at that.”

Voters registered as Republicans can’t vote in the Democratic primary, but those looking to have a say in the sheriff’s race could participate if they change their party affiliation to “Unaffiliated” by contacting the Orange County Board of Elections by April 10.

Despite the crowded field, David Caldwell says the race will be a friendly one, as most of the candidates have worked together over the years.

“We’ve all got some large shoes to fill. Pretty much we all know each other,” says Caldwell. “It’s a tribute to all those who think we have something to offer the county and the people of the county.”

Charles Blackwood agrees.

“They are all good friends of mine and will remain as such. I respect them, I care a great deal about them, and I won’t let the political process change that,” says Blackwood.

Early voting starts April 24 and runs through May 3. The primary election is May 6.