After Bobby Kimbrough Jr. won the Democratic nomination in May for sheriff of Forsyth County, he and his campaign staff knew he’d face big challenges in his November race against incumbent Republican Sheriff Bill Schatzman.
“We knew that we didn’t have the name recognition that he (Schatzman) has, being sheriff for 16 years,” Kimbrough said in an interview Wednesday. “We knew that we didn’t have the funding that he had.”
To overcome those challenges, Kimbrough and his staff decided they would outwork Schatzman’s campaign, Kimbrough said. Kimbrough promoted his candidacy as he visited sites throughout Forsyth County, such as the parking lot at McDonald’s restaurant on Martin Luther King Drive in Winston-Salem and Robinhood Road Baptist Church in the city’s northwestern section.
“We were going to get the people to meet Bobby Kimbrough,” he said.
That strategy was successful as he got support from Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters, Kimbrough said.
Kimbrough, 57, defeated Schatzman Tuesday night to become the first black sheriff in the history of Forsyth County. Kimbrough received 71,301 votes, or 53 percent of the ballots, while Schatzman got 62,093 votes, or 47 percent. Kimbrough won his first bid for public office.
Kimbrough said that Schatzman called him and congratulated him on his victory. Schatzman couldn’t be reached Wednesday for comment.
Kimbrough’s triumph also mirrors the elections Tuesday night of other African-American sheriffs in urban counties in North Carolina.
Democrat Danny Rogers defeated Republican B.J. Barnes to win the sheriff’s race in Guilford County. Democrat Garry McFadden was elected as sheriff of Mecklenburg County as he faced no Republican opponent. Democrat Gerald Baker defeated Republican incumbent Sheriff Donnie Harrison to win the sheriff’s job in Wake County.
Kimbrough declined to comment on the trend of black candidates winning sheriff’s races statewide this year.
During his career, Kimbrough has worked as a Winston-Salem police officer, an assistant city fire marshal, a state probation and parole officer and as an agent with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
Kimbrough said he decided to pursue a career in law enforcement as he watched the television show, “The Wild Wild West” as a young boy at his aunt’s home on North Patterson Avenue in the early 1970s.
Kimbrough said he was fascinated with the show’s characters of James West and Artemus Gordon.
“I told my aunt that I wanted to be a secret agent,” Kimbrough said.
A graduate of North Forsyth High School, he later attended Pfeiffer College (now Pfeiffer University) in Misenheimer, where he played on its basketball team for two years. He then joined the Winston-Salem Police Department in 1984 as a public safety officer.
Kimbrough enrolled in a departmental educational program with High Point College (now High Point University) where he received his undergraduate degree.
He worked as an arson investigator and an assistant fire marshal with the Winston-Salem Fire Department. He also worked as probation and parole officer before he was hired in 1995 as a special agent with the DEA.
In that role, Kimbrough worked on high-level illegal drug cases, sometimes involving wiretaps and violent gangs, he said.
Kimbrough recalled that he was among the federal agents who worked the criminal case involving Charles “Little Nut” Miller, a former U.S. federal witness who was convicted in 2000 in Miami on several narcotics charges, according to several news reports.
Miller was convicted of conspiring to send hundreds of pounds of Colombian cocaine from his native island of St. Kitts to the United States in the 1990s, according to news reports.
Kimbrough also remembers working as an federal air marshal aboard passenger planes throughout the United States after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was on a plane every day, flying to cities all over America,” Kimbrough said.
In 2002, he returned to the DEA’s office in Greensboro and continued his duties as a special agent there until he retired in 2016. Afterward, he worked as a consultant.
“Spanish is my second language,” said Kimbrough, who studied the language for his job at the DEA. “That was very helpful out on the campaign trail.”
As a DEA agent, Kimbrough saw how federal authorities arrested, convicted and imprisoned drug users and drug dealers during the nation’s crack-cocaine epidemic, he said. However, federal efforts in the War on Drugs failed to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the country, Kimbrough said.
“The war didn’t work,” he said.
In the current opioid epidemic, Kimbrough pointed to the 72,000 U.S. residents who died in 2017 of opioid overdoses, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Kimbrough has said he is motivated to stem the epidemic because his wife died of an opioid overdose in 2005.
State and federal authorities should prosecute illegal drug dealers, and provide treatment for opioid misusers, he said.
A father of seven sons, Kimbrough said he enjoys playing golf and riding bicycles. He enjoys reading, writing and going to the movies.
The last film he viewed was “White Boy Rick,” which portrayed the crack cocaine epidemic in Detroit during the 1980s.
“I wanted to see just how authentic that movie was,” Kimbrough said.