Five Democrats are vying for one of the most powerful and high-profile positions in Broward County: the seat of Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti.

Shahrukh "Shak" Dhanji, a state human relations commissioner; Scott Israel, North Bay Village police chief and former Fort Lauderdale police captain; Richard Lemack, the Hollywood assistant city manager and former assistant police chief; attorney and former federal prosecutor Bruce Udolf and Wiley Thompson, former chief of staff to former Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne and former FBI assistant director, will rival in the Aug. 26 primary elections.

A November showdown will pit the primary winner against Lamberti, who was appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist in October 2007 to occupy the position left vacant by Jenne, who plead guilty to federal tax evasion and mail fraud charges and is now in federal prison.

The contenders have a tough opponent as Lamberti, a  30-year BSO veteran, has gained tremendous support in his efforts to remain the head of the 6000 employee, $700 million budget public safety agency – one of the largest in the United States. Its multi-faceted duties include law enforcement, fire rescue and emergency medical services, as well as securing Port Everglades and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Campaign reports show that Lamberti has raised more than $500,000, more than double his nearest competitor, Israel, whose cash and in-kind donations total $198,960. Lemack’s campaign has received $153,104 and Udolf and Dhanji have both raised just over $135,000. Thompson has raised $18,570.

Apparently, some Democrats are supporting the Republican law enforcement official. Lamberti reportedly said at a Florida Democratic Party fundraiser that he is responsible for everyone’s safety, not just those within a certain party.

Lamberti, 54, began his career in a BSO uniform. From a detention deputy to the head of the agency, Lamberti has gained the support of many citizens and fellow deputies, including the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police. Lamberti did not respond to a message left with his campaign manager.

Thompson, 59, is a former FBI special agent who investigated criminal and foreign counter-intelligence. Over the years, he rose through the ranks and ended his 25-year career with the agency as the assistant director with responsibilities that included oversight of 28,000 employees and a $30 billion annual budget. His career also included a federal position with the Transportation Safety Administration responsible for ground, maritime and aviation transportation security.

The only African-American in the race, Thompson joined BSO in 2005 and served as the agency’s chief of staff before his post was eliminated in the aftermath of Jenne’s pitfall.

Thompson told the South Florida Times that of all the candidates, he's the most qualified to deal with the multi-faceted agency because all the other candidates’ experiences are limited to just law enforcement within Broward County.

“I am running for the position because I believe it’s time for a cultural change in the Broward Sheriff’s Office. The single greatest challenge faced by BSO is the lack of public confidence and I want to restore the public’s trust and confidence in the constitutional law office of the sheriff. BSO has been plagued with rogue sheriffs for the last 75 years… It is time for an executive leader with the experience in public safety who brings an unblemished record to this county,” he said.

The Realtors Association of Greater Fort Lauderdale agrees. The organization said in their endorsement letter to Thompson: “Wiley Thompson is the best candidate because he is the only one, even over Sheriff Lamberti, who brings outside experiences.”

Israel, a 30-year law enforcement officer, begs to differ.

In an emailed reply, Israel, 52, said, “Someone from within the organization with historical ties and biases is not able to make the needed, objective decisions to keep the people safe and the budget in check.”

Israel was appointed North Bay Village police chief in 2004. A year later, the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association (PBA) honored him as “Police Chief of the Year.” As chief, Scott is responsible for the management, administration and operation of the public safety agency.

“The Broward County Sheriff’s Office is not only about deputies patrolling and keeping the streets safe. The next sheriff of Broward County needs to understand that public safety is a three-legged stool (law enforcement, fire rescue and detention/community control). If one of those legs falls short, the stool tips and mistakes are made. I am the leader to keep the stool upright and to reinforce it and make it stronger. And, when I do, Broward County – as a vibrant, dynamic community – will be a safer place to live, work and raise a family,” Israel said.

The primary also includes attorney and former Justice Department official Udolf, 56, who also has 30 years of experience in the criminal justice system. Udolf said that for BSO to be effective, it is essential that any perception of corruption be addressed and corrected immediately.

Udolf did not respond to a request for comment. On his website, Udolf states that he is running for Broward County Sheriff because he is “deeply concerned about the impact recent events have had on our sheriff's office. The Broward Sheriff's Office provides some of the finest law enforcement services in the nation. However, in the past few years, too often the public perception has not reflected that reality.”

Roberto Martinez, a former United States Attorney, has endorsed Udolf. 

Another candidate, Richard “Rick” Lemack, 49, has 21 years in law enforcement. A former Hollywood assistant police chief, Lemack became the city’s assistant manager in 2003.

“I will work hard every day to earn the respect and cooperation of everyone in Broward County.  The Broward Sheriff’s Office must serve with honesty, integrity and accountability while performing in a cost-effective manner to ensure our safety.  I will always be available to talk or meet to hear your concerns, comments and suggestions,” according to his website. Lemack did not respond to a request for comment.

Dhanji, 41, a former assistant United States attorney and commissioner of the Public Integrity/Corruption Section, is the youngest to join the fray.

On his website, he vows to “implement a very strong community policing strategy and initiative based on the notion that community interaction and support can help control crime. The basic idea is to create bonds of trust and reliance between police and the public.  This often includes having police officers to get more involved with the areas they patrol…as opposed to just driving around in their patrol vehicles.”

The Dhanji family has been in the news for non-campaign related events as well. According to recent news reports, his wife, Amina rear-ended an elderly neighbor while driving without valid insurance in 2004, then tried to get out of reporting the crash. The report said that according to Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles records, the accident was one of 10 traffic infractions she has racked up since 2001. The Dhanjis apparently denied the claim and said the matter was settled.

Dhanji did not respond to an interview request.