Race between Daniels and Owens focuses on growth
You can usually find Jamie Daniels behind the counter at Garden Deli & Pizzeria, the small eatery along U.S. 64 in Manteo that he and his wife, Nadine, have owned since 1994.
Daniels, 46, has been mayor of this Roanoke Island town since 2009, serving four two-year terms. Only one of those was a contested race, in 2013, and he won easily against Madeline D’Ambra, daughter of former Manteo Police Chief Francis D’Ambra. That year, a total of 312 people in this town of about 1,500 residents cast a ballot for mayor.
But this year, the Manns Harbor and Roanoke Island native won’t go unchallenged. And he has an unlikely opponent – longtime Dare County politician and well-known businessman Robert “Bobby” V. Owens, Jr.
“I have a lot of respect for Mr. Bobby, I just still have things I need to do,” said Daniels. “I don’t see us having philosophical differences or going head to head over the future of the town. I don’t know his platform, but I don’t see a great divide.”
When asked why he’s running, the 84-year-old Owens responded, “I haven’t got any axes to grind and I am not trying to get even with anyone. I just think the town could run more efficiently and there could be more accountability. Everyone is doing a fairly good job from what I can see. I just think I can do one, too.”
“I come from the business community, Owens’ Restaurant and some other ventures,” Owens added. “Manteo has the potential to be like those little places in eastern Maryland. Manteo’s got it. It’s there, just waiting to happen.”
Local politicians and business people contacted by the Sentinel are keeping pretty tight-lipped about this race in this close-knit town.
While some of them say it’s going to be an interesting contest – and likely a close one – they are reticent to talk about predictions or preferences. But there is a general perception that the election may be a referendum of sorts on how to manage growth in a town that’s focused on preserving and protecting its way of life.
It's been a relatively quiet election season so far in Manteo. Both candidates have put up a few campaign signs. Daniels says he's using some leftover signs from the 2013 mayoral race and will likely send a mailer to residents since his opponent has. Other than that, the mayor said he'll focus on "one-on-one" interactions with voters.
As for Owens, he said he's running an "old-fashioned campaign" by putting up campaign signs, sending out a letter to voters, as well as mailing them a postcard outlining his political career, his achievements, the offices he's held and his platform.
The two men live right around the corner from one another. And pretty much everyone in Manteo, if they don’t know both men personally, at least knows their names.
Owens served on the Dare County Board of Commissioners for 21 years, 13 of them as chairman, until 1997. He also served a 12-year stint on the North Carolina Utilities Commission, three years as an Outer Banks Hospital Board of Trustees member, and was a two-time recipient of the Manteo Citizen of the Year Award, along with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award.
“I come from the business community,” Owens said. “I have a reputation for a clean environment, but I am a growth/development person. It can be done right. My record speaks to that.”
Daniels, a graduate of Baltimore International Culinary College, served on the Manteo Planning Board for nearly eight years before becoming mayor in 2009. He also spent five years on the Dare County Tourism Board.
If re-elected, Daniels says he’d like to work on completing some projects he started, particularly those relating to storm water collection and treatment. He also wants to focus on updating Manteo’s Land Use Plan, seeking resident input as the town moves through the process.
The mayor wants to begin planning for the turnover of several county buildings in downtown Manteo that will need to be developed in the next few years and would like to see a 60-room hotel built downtown, if it is in line with Manteo’s character.
“The town is in a really good place right now,” Daniels said. “We’ve made improvements to the infrastructure and really coming up on a growth spurt here, but it needs to be managed well.”
For his part, Owens cites a serious parking problem in downtown Manteo, adding that he’d like to see more visitors drawn to the town.
“We get some, but the town is not trying to go out and get them,” he said. “Maybe we need a coordinator to get people to encourage people to visit Manteo.”
Also on the Owens to-do list is some work cleaning up the town. “There would be some changes as far as maintenance and upkeep,” he said. “It could be a little cleaner of a town. I think people and tourists notice things like that.”
But the challenger refutes any notion that he wants to change the small-town ambiance of Manteo.
"There is a rumor going around that I am for big development and growth,” he said. “I am anti-big development, big growth. I am not for this honky-tonk stuff. We are just about overbuilt. I just don't want the small businesses to die."
“We have to grow,” Daniels said, summing up his view of the issue. “But have to stay true to Manteo’s character.”