Beating back unprecedented outside influence and a well-funded opponent, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce handily won re-election Tuesday in what could be the most costly primary election for sheriff in Maine history.

His opponent, retired Maine State Police Sgt. Michael Edes, told his supporters and media late Tuesday that he would concede.

With 100 percent of the county’s precincts reporting by midnight, Joyce won the Democratic primary with 59 percent of the vote to 41 percent for Edes. Joyce will have no Republican opponent on the ballot in November.

Edes said he was proud to have run a positive campaign.

“To defeat an incumbent is tough to begin with. … I hope Kevin will seize the moment. He’s a good man, we just differed on leadership styles,” Edes said. “I’m getting ready for a good, long fishing trip.”

Reached about 11 p.m., Joyce said he was waiting for a concession call from Edes but was ready to move forward and continue addressing issues at the jail that he has been working on for four years.

Among his top priorities are seeking accreditation for his office’s law enforcement operation, the last step in becoming fully accredited as an agency. He said he also will continue to work on treating inmates who suffer from both mental illness and drug addiction, and installing new technology to bring the jail into the 21st century and beyond an outdated paper record system.

Most immediately, though, Joyce said he was ready for something far simpler: “I’m looking for a day off,” he said.

The primary will likely prove to be the most expensive primary sheriff’s race in Maine history.

When he ran unopposed four years ago, Joyce spent about $14,000. He was on target to spend about the same amount this year.

Edes was a more aggressive fundraiser, pulling in nearly $37,000 that he spent on signs, direct mail and other advertisements.

Edes also had the backing of his longtime friend Michael Liberty, a real estate developer formerly of Portland, who this year spent $100,000 to create Citizens for a Safe Cumberland County, a political action committee that spent heavily on radio and direct-mail ads attacking Joyce.

The sheriff’s office is responsible for patrolling 14 towns in the county that don’t have their own police departments, and for overseeing the county jail, where about 475 men and women are serving sentences of less than one year, or awaiting trial or sentencing.

The ads against Joyce focused on two incidents in the past two years, in which inmates at the Cumberland County Jail got out of their cell blocks to have sex with inmates of the opposite sex.

Election law prohibits candidates or their campaigns from coordinating with political action committees that support them. Edes said that although he and Liberty had been friends since childhood, they had not spoken since last year.

After Joyce complained, the state ethics commission declined to investigate whether there was any illegal coordination between Edes and the PAC.

Regardless of the commission’s decision, Joyce said he had made his point to voters.

“There was a sense at the polls that people just didn’t like big money for a fairly little race, and it appears that at least the people are looking for a race that’s built on integrity and experience rather than just buying ads and placing out signs,” Joyce said.

Edes said he had to spend more than Joyce to overcome Joyce’s stronger name recognition from four years in office.

Before the polls closed Tuesday, some voters in South Portland said the outsized PAC activity loomed in their minds.

Richard Gosselin said he voted for Joyce but was undecided until he heard about the large PAC contribution to Edes’ campaign.

“That contribution from Michael Liberty bothered me,” said Gosselin, 66. “It reeked of political impropriety.”

Boyd Marley, a former state representative for Portland who now lives in South Portland, said both candidates are professional but he chose the incumbent.

“Joyce has done a good job with limited resources,” Marley said.

In Freeport, Mike Shea said he has heard from friends in the sheriff’s office about the working conditions there, leading him to cast his ballot for Edes.

“I know what’s going on over there,” Shea said. “A lot of guys are unhappy.”

On the spending by the outside group, he said it didn’t detract from Edes as a candidate, and he dismissed the suggestion that Edes coordinated with the PAC.

“Politics is politics,” Shea said. “Knowing Mike, it was not a planned thing on his part. It probably hurt his campaign. Why would you sabotage your campaign?”

Staff Writers David Hench and Chelsea Diana contributed to this report.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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