Forget name recognition. As the Democratic primary for Richmond Circuit Court Clerk draws near, the candidates are spending most of their waning campaign hours explaining that the job actually exists.
Outgoing clerk Bevill Dean feels their pain. He held the position for 20 years before retiring in January. Three terms in, he was still explaining the job.
"Most people don't know what goes on in a clerk's office," Dean says.
As the stump speeches go: Everyone in the city likely will deal with the court clerk at some point, whether the person's whisked off to jail, wants to get married or buys property. A clerk controls court records as wide-ranging as deeds and guardian appointments — about 800 duties total.
With no Republican or independent candidates, the Democratic primary June 10 will determine the de facto winner in the November election. Interim Clerk Ed Jewett, who's served in the clerk's office for 29 years, won early endorsements from Dean and nearly every elected city official. He faces challenges from Jackson Ward attorney Melvin Todd and shipping company manager Scott Bailey.
All three candidates want to be the first clerk to sign off on a same-sex marriage. They also all favor boosting electronic-filing services and restoring the voting rights of felons.
But when a job pays $136,000 a year and comes with an eight-year term, you can bet the campaign will turn personal.
"I spend a lot of time when I meet with the other candidates correcting their misconceptions," Jewett says. "I think their inexperience is a problem."
Todd and Bailey say Jewett is entrenched in an inefficient bureaucracy and won't make needed changes.
"I want it run much more efficiently, more effectively at a lower cost," Todd says.
"He thinks everything is great," Bailey says. "But if it's great, why doesn't the community know what his office does?"
Both Bailey and Todd have accused Jewett of illegally placing signs on public property, a charge that Jewett denies.
All this over a primary election that may get 2,000 voters. "Ninety-eight percent of the people I talk to have no idea what the position is," Todd says.