NAPLES — Well that was easy.
After 11 months of nasty mudslinging by his opponents and their supporters, including being accused of breaking election laws and unethical campaigning, Kevin Rambosk was elected in a landslide Tuesday night to be the next sheriff of Collier County.
Because there are no independent or Democratic candidates in the race, Rambosk doesn’t have to compete in November’s general election.
When he takes the helm of the agency in mid-January to begin a four-year term, Rambosk will be the first new Collier sheriff in 20 years, taking over for outgoing Sheriff Don Hunter, who was first elected in 1988.
Running on a 30-year record as a law enforcement officer and government official in Collier County, including stints as Naples police chief, Naples city manager, and Collier undersheriff, Rambosk won 74.3 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s primary election.
He garnered 27,715 votes, by far the most of any Collier candidate on the ballot.
“I never thought it was going to be a close election,” Rambosk said. “You’ve got to bring qualifications to the community for them to consider.”
Over the course of the campaign, Rambosk, 53, said the accusations made against him by his opponents, private investigator Victor Ortino and local businessman Vinny Angiolillo, were baseless.
“Campaigning is new for me, but I can tell you something very, very clearly,” Rambosk said. “We have run a professional, innovative and positive campaign all the way through.”
Of the 197,716 registered voters in Collier County, only 37,813 ballots were cast in Tuesday’s primary - less than 20 percent.
“It wasn’t what we projected, which was 20 percent,” said Gary Beauchamp, chief deputy supervisor at the Collier County Supervisor of Elections Office. “But it was better than 2006, which was 18 percent.”
Rambosk celebrated his victory with supporters, many of them Sheriff’s Office employees, at the Naples Heritage Golf & Country Club in East Naples.
Drinking wine and beer, and munching on sandwiches, pizza and chicken wings, Rambosk supporters got down to funky tunes like “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice and “Bust a Move” by Young MC.
The crowd cheered around 7:25 p.m. when absentee ballots and early voting results were released, showing Rambosk with 77 percent of the vote and a comfortable lead.
“We are the Champions” by Queen blared over the loudspeakers.
“Better than I thought,” said Hunter, who endorsed Rambosk to succeed him. “I thought it would probably be in the 67 percent range, so this is excellent news.”
John Rossi, a lieutenant with the Sheriff’s Office’s gang unit, said he predicted a landslide all along.
Rossi said he was working in the Naples dispatch center when Rambosk was first hired as a police officer in 1978. Rambosk came in the dispatch center on his first day of work wearing wire-rim glasses, and Rossi said even then that he could tell Rambosk was a man of character and integrity.
“He asked me where he could pick up his uniform. He was ready to go to work,” Rossi said.
Since announcing his candidacy in October, Rambosk focused on his experience and qualifications. At one debate he said that neither of his opponents had “been in law enforcement long enough to know how contemporary police agencies run.”
Ortino, who predicted a close election, won about 20 percent of the vote, followed by Angiolillo with about 5 percent.
Angiolillo said before the election that he expected to win about 70 percent of the vote, and wouldn’t count out contesting the election.
“I think Rambosk probably pulled a lot of shenanigans, and I’m concerned about that,” said Angiolillo, who campaigned Monday on the back of an elephant. “That’s something the voters have to deal with now and the taxpayers.”
Questions about qualifications dogged Ortino and Angiolillo throughout the campaign.
Neither had worked in law enforcement in nearly a quarter of a century, with Ortino resigning from the Florida Highway Patrol in 1985 and Angiolillo last working as a Connecticut state police officer in the 1970s.
Ortino celebrated Tuesday night with his supporters at the Hawthorne Suites off of Pine Ridge Road. After thanking people who voted for him and contributed to his campaign, Ortino said “we made a good showing and won in our own way.”
“We brought our points out,” Ortino said. “We brought out that there’s problems in the agency. We made Kevin aware what they were, and hopefully he can work on fixing that.
“I want to congratulate him, too. He ran a good campaign.”
Rambosk, who resigned from the Sheriff’s Office in July to avoid running afoul of a federal election law, said he was ready to get back to work.
“I’m hoping to get back by the end of the week,” Rambosk said, “in whatever role the sheriff decides is appropriate for me.”