Raleigh, N.C. — Former Wake County school board member and Republican candidate for state auditor Debra Goldman has once again been elected to office – and once again, she's at the center of a political controversy.
Goldman, her boyfriend, Kevin Reece, and Reece's political ally Sam Foster were all elected Tuesday as write-in commissioner candidates in Ronda, a tiny Wilkes County town.
They took over three of the town's four commissioner seats, defeating an incumbent and shifting the balance of the board against Mayor Victor Varela, a longtime political foe of Reece's.
According to Shirley Johnson with the Wilkes County Board of Elections, unofficial tallies show 60 voters wrote in Reece's name, 59 wrote in Goldman's and 75 wrote in Foster's.
Foster is an incumbent who declined to file for re-election but changed his mind and ran as a write-in. He attempted to put Reece on the town board to fill a vacancy in 2012, but Varela derailed the effort.
Johnson said the election turnout of 131 voters was higher than usual. More than a third were absentee voters: 39 ballots came in by mail, and 12 were cast at one-stop voting, which Johnson said was also unusually high.
Shortly after Goldman lost her bid for state auditor in 2012, she moved to Ronda (population 417), where she was works as executive director of the Derie Cheek Reece Foundation, a nonprofit stroke education group.
The creator of that foundation, Kevin Reece, said he met Goldman on the campaign trail and felt she would be a good director for his nonprofit.
Goldman and Reece are "in a relationship," according to Reece's Facebook page, and both are registered to vote at the same residence.
Goldman did not return call from WRAL News.
The nonprofit was incorporated in 2011, according to its filing with the Secretary of State's Office, but no tax records for the foundation are available via the IRS. WRAL News' request for the group's latest 990 filing was not immediately answered.
Reece himself has been very active in local politics in Ronda, where he's been engaged in a contentious, long-running battle with Varela. The two have accused each other of corruption, drug abuse, harassment and fraud over the years.
According to local media reports, the latest clash between the two men was in 2012, when Varela sought an ordinance to limit the number of roosters that could be kept on property within town limits.
Reece, who owns at least 32 roosters, fought the proposal. He circulated a recall petition against Varela, only to find out that the town's charter did not allow recalls.
The same wave that put Reece, Goldman and Foster into office also led to a 2-1 victory for a referendum adding a recall clause to the town charter.
Goldman told WRAL News early Wednesday she was "surprised" by her write-in victory and wasn't sure she would accept the seat.
"It would be an honor to help the people of Ronda to retain their property rights, and it would be an honor to serve and be able to stop some of the ordinances that the current board is trying to invoke on the people of this town regarding such," she wrote in an email. "I need to give it all some very deep thought, as this really did come as a surprise.
"When some people asked me if I would ever consider serving as a commissioner, I had no idea that I would have this much support, especially as a write-in without even running a campaign!" Goldman added.
Less than four hours later, she announced via Twitter she would serve.
"Last night I was elected a Town Commissioner in Ronda, NC as a write-in candidate!" Goldman tweeted. "I look forward to returning to public service! #ncpol"