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Incumbents Fath, Schneider survive challenges in Northwoods sheriff races

Joe Fath Facebook

Two incumbent Northwoods sheriffs will hold onto their offices, fending off challenges from within their own departments.

Vilas County Sheriff Joe Fath was elected to serve a third term. He beat Capt. Gerard Ritter in Tuesday’s Republican primary, winning 52 percent of the vote. No Democrat is running for the job, meaning Fath will keep the office.

After the results were tallied, Fath told WXPR he was caught off guard by how close the race was.

“I was very surprised. A lot of people in the community told me that I wasn’t going to have any problem, that it was going to be a blowout. It wasn’t a blowout,” Fath said. “Either I didn’t do a very effective job at communicating with the voters or Gerard did a better job of communicating his message.

“I don’t know what that message is because he’s never shared that with me.”

Fath was first appointed Vilas County Sheriff ten years ago after the death of former sheriff Frank Tomlanovich. Prior to Tuesday, he won two subsequent elections following the appointment.

“Some of the rhetoric during the election was, it’s time for a change. I think many people didn’t buy into that,” Fath said. “When things are going well, typically that’s not when you want to change something.”

Before the election, Ritter told WXPR he felt it was time for a change in leadership in the county. He said he was also worried Fath would retire prior to the end of another four-year term. Fath told WXPR he’s committed to serving the next four years.

Fath said some divisions within the sheriff’s office would have to be resolved post-election.

“It was very awkward around the office. It kind of split our staff on who they were supporting,” he said. “We’re going to have to try to get back together and everybody pull the rope in the same direction.”

In Lincoln County, Ken Schneider retained his position as sheriff after a challenge by one of his deputies, Lt. Grant Peterson.

Schneider got 57 percent of the votes in the Republican primary. With no Democrat in the race, Schneider is assured of keeping his job. He first won the office after the retirement of former sheriff Jeff Jaeger four years ago.

Prior to the election, Peterson told WXPR he noticed things “slipping in the moral department” in Lincoln County. Despite a request, Schneider declined to schedule a pre-election interview with WXPR.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.