On Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, voters will be asked to cast votes for individuals running for local offices, including county executive, county coroner, and county sheriff, among others.

While political affiliation doesn’t matter as much in local elections as it does in congressional or legislative races, there are times when, in a quirk of circumstance, opposing ideologies facing a common political foe (in this case the Rensselaer County Republican Party) can make cozy bedfellows.

One example? Former Troy Police Chief Brian Owens is a member of the New York Conservative Party, yet he’s running for Rensselaer County sheriff with the backing of Rensselaer County Democrats against Republican opponent, Kyle Bourgault. 

“I’ve never run for office before, so all of this is a little bit unusual to me,” Owens told Capital Tonight.

Owens isn’t a novice on the law enforcement scene. He spent 24 years in Troy as a correction officer, patrolman and sergeant— all on an upward trajectory until he reached chief of police. He’s taken leadership training at the FBI National Academy.  Much of this experience came either while, or after, spending 20 years in the U.S. military. 

One of many Democrats who have come out strongly for Owens is state Assemblymember John T. McDonald.   

“Brian Owens is the perfect candidate for Rensselaer County sheriff. His experience as a police officer and the Chief of the Troy Police Department as well as his military service makes him by far the most experienced and qualified candidate for Sheriff,” McDonald told Capital Tonight. “Brian also is mindful of the challenges individuals face especially those struggling with mental health and substance use issues.  I feel he has the right mindset to bring new initiatives to the Sheriff's Department to benefit all the residents of Rensselaer County.”

The opening for sheriff comes as incumbent Pat Russo is not seeking re-election.  

Russo, a Republican, has endorsed Bourgault.

When you speak with Owens, he frequently cites the need to create an “independent” sheriff’s office. 

When asked if the office should be a counterweight to Steve McLaughlin, the powerful Republican County executive since 2018, Owens repeats that the office should be independent, but acknowledges that McLaughlin has historically thrown his significant political weight in support of candidates he favors in the past.

“Certainly not me. Within hours of me formally announcing my candidacy for sheriff, County Executive McLaughlin, on social media, decided to attack me personally,” Owens said.

One of the policies that McLaughlin ushered when he took office in 2018 was to allow ICE, or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to identify and remove “incarcerated criminal noncitizens” – something the Albany Times Union has called “a controversial collaboration between the department and the federal agency in charge of apprehending and detaining undocumented individuals accused of criminal activity.”

The Republican candidate for sheriff is campaigning on the promise to continue the county’s existing agreement with ICE, which is called 287(g).

Owens told Capital Tonight that he couldn’t yet commit to the program since he has questions about it.

“There’s… a lack of information that has been publicly available. I’d be curious to know who’s been trained, what is the cost to the county, and then is this useful in terms of both protection of county residents, but also is it useful in terms of federal immigration enforcement,” Owens said. 

Owens is also looking for other clarifications, including why a judicial warrant couldn’t serve a similar purpose.

“I would want to evaluate (the 287g program), once I had access to that information,” he said.

Capital Tonight has reached out twice to the campaign of Kyle Bourgault, but has yet to hear back.