‘A Great Ride’

Gerace Reflects On Time As Sheriff, Readies For Future

After more than 20 years with the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Joe Gerace said he is ready to take on the next phase of his life. During a recent interview, Gerace went through many of his highlights and accomplishments while leading the Sheriff’s Office. P-J photo by Jordan W. Patterson

MAYVILLE — Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace will soon wake up in a new year and into the next phase of his life, but without the badge he’s worn for 24 years.

“It’s been my life for almost a quarter-century,” Gerace told The Post-Journal during an interview.

On election night inside the Brazil Craft Beer and Wine Lounge, Gerace learned he would no longer represent the county as the sheriff. In front of family, supporters and media members, the unofficial results painted an unfavorable picture for Gerace. And before the unofficial results were final, he conceded the race. Gerace, the longest running sheriff in the county who had been elected and re-elected four other times, had finally lost.

Republican challenger Jim Quattrone emerged victorious with 22,114 votes to Gerace’s 19,126.

Gerace wins first term. P-J file photo

“This wasn’t the outcome we were looking for,” Gerace said at the time.

He thanked his supporters and his family as the night drew to a close. But in the morning, Gerace still had a job to do — even if it was a “sad day,” as he described it. For the last two months, Gerace has been busy fulfilling his remaining duties as the sheriff while also cleaning out his office.

Gerace began with the Sheriff’s Office in 1978 with the boat patrol only part-time for two summers. Later, he secured a job as a full-time deputy and quickly became a crime scene investigator. Then in 1995, he was elected sheriff.

But what happens to a sheriff once he’s no longer leading a department of deputies, especially after almost a quarter century of his life has been consumed in the role? Well if people thought Gerace might have earned a vacation or that he’d be taking time off after 24 years, they’re wrong — Gerace isn’t interested.

“Not if I can help it,” Gerace said sitting at his desk in his office positioned below framed images of the Starflight helicopters. “I’d like to move into something as soon as possible. Time off and me don’t mix. I’m a worker, a workaholic. I enjoy it and I want to find something that’s satisfying and continue to contribute in some way.”

Gerace sits at his office desk. P-J file photo

In the final month of Gerace’s 24-year stint as the leader of the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office, he appeared calm, at peace with the recent election and content with what has been accomplished under his watch.

He highlighted the emergency medical techinician program that has helped more than 20 deputies becomes EMTs. The training is also incorporated into the Sheriff’s Academy ensuring that graduates are certified upon release.

Gerace said he is also proud of the Sheriff’s Office accreditation and the expansion of the Starflight program. The Sheriff’s Office is the only police entity in Chautauqua County besides University Police at the State University of New York at Fredonia that is accredited through the Department of Criminal Justice Services.

The Starflight program began prior to Gerace being elected under the leadership of late-Sheriff John Bentley. But during Gerace’s tenure as sheriff, the Starflight program was made cost-neutral by purchasing commercial helicopters as opposed to free-military helicopters, allowing for the county to charge for flights.

The cost for the program was more than $300,000 annually before making the shift.

Gerace thanks his supporters at Brazil in Jamestown on election night. P-J file photo

Gerace said when he’s officially no longer sheriff, he’ll be ready for what comes next. However, he didn’t let on as to what that might be.

“I’m looking at other options. I’m looking at other things that might be of interest to me and that will be fulfilling,” Gerace told The Post-Journal. “I have spent my entire adult life in public service and I would like to continue in that arena if I can.”

When asked if he’d consider pursuing law enforcement, politics or even running for sheriff again, Gerace politely declined to speculate.

Regardless of what Gerace’s job looks like next, outside of work, his passion for hockey will be unwaivered. He has coached for many years, and continues to coach locally. Two of Gerace’s children play collegiate hockey currently.

“Hockey is my passion,” Gerace said.

In addition to coaching hockey, Gerace is confident he will move into a new occupation quickly after the new year. Whatever it may be, he hopes it will be in Chautauqua County — the place that he loves.

“I don’t worry about me as much. I feel that I’ll find something that’s rewarding and fulfilling,” Gerace said. “It’s been a great ride and I think as some point it had to end, whether it was under this circumstance or one where I decided to retire. So I kind of mentally prepared for that. It was going to be inevitable at some point in time.”

Gerace said, excluding his oldest child, his youngest children have only known their dad as being sheriff. But for that matter, Gerace has only known himself as sheriff for the last 24 years. Still, Gerace said he’s isn’t worried about how he will handle not being sheriff, and is optimistic that he will find find rewarding challenges in what he choose to pursue next.

“I’m going to miss the people — the people that work here that I see day-to-day, no doubt,” he said. “I’m going to miss the public service to the community. I take great pride in that. My availability to the public, but more so making the Chautauqua County a better place to live. It’s been a challenge, but it’s been very rewarding and that I will miss.”