Former King County sheriff's spokesman John Urquhart has defeated Sheriff Steve Strachan. The initial vote count showed Urquhart leading...

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Former King County sheriff’s spokesman John Urquhart has defeated Sheriff Steve Strachan. The initial vote count showed Urquhart leading 57-42 percent Tuesday night.

Urquhart said he was “gratified” at the early margin and was already planning his return to the department. He said his focus would be on staffing, enhancing community support and “integrating” his new undersheriff, former Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, into the department.

“I’m glad to be back,” he said.

Strachan spent the evening at an Indian restaurant on Capitol Hill with his supporters.

“We would rather be ahead than behind, but there’s a lot of votes to count,” Strachan said after the polls closed, pointing out that only about half the votes had been counted.

The winner of the race will serve a one-year term before facing a general election to replace former Sheriff Sue Rahr, who resigned earlier this year.

Strachan, 47, and Urquhart, 64, spent months blaming the other for problems in the department, highlighted by two recent consultants’ reports critical of oversight of deputies’ use of force and citizen complaints.

While Strachan has insisted that the agency needs to adapt and change, Urquhart claims the department was largely on the right track before Strachan — a former chief in Kent — was hired by Rahr in January 2011 and groomed to be her replacement.

Before his retirement in February, Urquhart was at the Sheriff’s Office from 1988 to 2012, first as a deputy and then as a sergeant.

He was the department’s highly quotable spokesman for almost 15 years, a position that gave him sizable name recognition in the race for sheriff.

The winner will oversee a list of recommendations approved earlier this fall by the Metropolitan King County Council aimed at bolstering oversight and improving how the agency investigates use-of-force complaints.

The recommendations emerged from the consultants’ reports commissioned by the County Council.

Central to the recommendations is improving relations with King County’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, a civilian-led committee created in 2006 to help oversee complaints and internal investigations filed against the Sheriff’s Office.

Urquhart was endorsed by former sheriff and current U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and former U.S. Attorney John McKay.

Strachan’s enforcements included Rahr, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, the Municipal League of King County, The Seattle Times and The Stranger.

Information from Seattle Times archives

is included in this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or