Verdict of the voters - Outer Banks Sentinel: News

Verdict of the voters

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Posted: Tuesday, November 14, 2017 9:00 pm

Continuity in Southern Shores; change in Manteo

Two years ago, an anti-incumbent and change wave swept over the elections in Southern Shores as three veteran town council members aligned with Mayor Tom Bennett were defeated by challengers Fred Newberry, Gary McDonald and Chris Nason.  


    On the new council, Newberry and McDonald formed a bloc advocating for more government transparency and long-range planning. This year, with McDonald challenging Bennett for mayor and a like-minded Geri Sullivan bidding for an open council seat, there was the potential for shifting the balance of power on the five-member body to that bloc — significantly changing the leadership in a town where politics can be divisive.

      Then came Election Day, which delivered solid victories for Bennett and Jim Conners, the council candidate allied with him. In what looked like straight ticket voting, Bennett received 690 of the roughly 1,150 votes cast for mayor, while McDonald received 454. In the council race, Conners received 672 votes to Sullivan’s 453.

      Conners' win came despite a controversy earlier in the campaign when he was found to have authored fabricated emails and Facebook posts attributed to a fictitious Southern Shores resident.

The Southern Shores result was one of the major storylines after the Nov. 7 municipal elections that saw an incumbent mayor ousted along with — at least at this moment — three incumbents on local boards of commissioners. According to the unofficial returns, almost 3,500 votes were cast overall, although there were no contested elections in Kitty Hawk and Duck. That represents about 22% of the eligible voters.

      The mayoral changing of the guard occurred in Manteo, as 84-year-old Bobby Owens defeated four-term incumbent Jamie Daniels, a man nearly four decades his junior. Daniels, the owner of the Garden Deli & Pizzeria, had run unopposed in three of those four races.

      Owens, a veteran pol and office holder who had spent 21 years on the Dare County Board of Commissioners, 13 of them as chairman, captured about 55% of the roughly 420 votes cast.

      In a tight-knit community like Manteo, a candidate’s network of friends and supporters is likely to be at least as important as the issues debated. Both candidates talked about how to manage growth and development in a place that treasures its small town ambiance, but also wants to become more tourist-friendly. But there may have been an undercurrent of expectation that Owens would be more aggressive and proactive on that growth and development front.

      In the race for three seats on the seven-member Manteo Board of Commissioners, the top three finishers were challenger Eddie Mann Jr., a detective in the Nags Head Police Department (33.1%); incumbent Commissioner Christine Walker (23.6%); and incumbent Richie Burke (21.4%). 

      But the results of the race, which are unofficial, may still be up in the air since the fourth-place finisher, first-term incumbent Commissioner Martha Wickre, is only three votes behind Burke. Earlier this year, Wickre unsuccessfully sought the nod of the Dare County Republican Party to replace the retiring Margarette Umphlett on the Dare County Board of Commissioners, reportedly running into opposition from the more conservative elements in the party.

      The county will conduct a canvas of the Nov. 7 results on Nov. 17, and after that, there will be a narrow window for any candidate who lost by less than one percent of the vote to request a recount. Currently, Wickre’s margin is under that one percent level.

      In what was a relatively low-keyed mayoral race in Kill Devil Hills, popular three-term incumbent Mayor Sheila Davies easily won her rematch against businessman Ron Wright by garnering 68% of the more than 900 votes cast — a verdict not too far off from the 77% of the vote she collected against Wright in 2015.

      A close four-person race for two seats on the five-member Kill Devil Hills Board of Commissioners produced victories for two challengers, Walgreens store manager John Windley (27.7% of the vote) and former mayor Terry Gray (26.5%). They finished ahead of Democratic Party precinct chair Luke Mahler (23.8%) and one-term incumbent Commissioner Michael Midgette (21.3%).

      There was no contested mayor’s race in Nags Head, more like an orderly changing of the guard that occurred last December when current Mayor Bob Edwards announced his decision not to run for re-election and his friend, Ben Cahoon, announced his candidacy to succeed him within hours.

      There was, however, a crowded race for two seats on the five-member Nags Head Board of Commissioners. Among the five candidates, the leading vote getter was former Southern Shores and Nags Head Town Manager Webb Fuller (33.2%). The second-place finisher was Nags Head Planning Board Member Michael Siers (26.8%). Keith Sawyer and John Mascaro both finished well back in the balloting.

      First-term incumbent Commissioner Marvin Demers is currently on the outside looking in, holding down third place, at 18 votes behind Siers. That is a margin that is outside the one-percent threshold required to request a recount.

      One factor that may have hurt an incumbent like Demers with some Nags Head voters was the potency of concerns over the stormwater drainage problem in the town. Three of the challengers for commissioners’ seats — Fuller, Siers and Mascaro — were on hand in late September when a Nags Head community meeting was convened to discuss the issue. Tellingly, Demers was not there, telling the Sentinel he was not invited and did not hear about the meeting in advance. 

      There were no contested races in two Dare County municipalities. In Kitty Hawk, incumbent Mayor Gary Perry ran unopposed, as did town council members Jeff Pruitt and Craig Garriss.

      In Duck, all five incumbents — Jonathan Britt, Chuck Burdick, Nancy Caviness, Monica Thibodeau and current Mayor Don Kingston — ran unopposed for the town council. The next mayor will be selected by the council members.

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