School board runoff will likely overshadow other Wake races
Posted November 8, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. — If early voter turnout is any indication, municipal races in 11 Wake County towns and cities will be overshadowed Tuesday by the still-undecided contest for the District 3 school board seat.
More than half of the 2,058 one-stop and absentee ballots cast as of noon Monday were for the runoff race between challenger Heather Losurdo and incumbent Kevin Hill, who came up 51 votes short of securing a win in last month's election.
"We pretty much knew, because of the media coverage in District 3, that this was going to be one of the contests that brought voters out," Cherie Poucher, director of the Wake County Board of Elections, said Monday.
Voter turnout in October was 21.16 percent – more than double the turnout in 2009.
"It has been a long time since Wake County's municipalities had a 20 percent voter turnout," Poucher said. "I'd love to see 80 to 90 percent turnout, but anything over 20 – it's been a long time since that happened."
The school board races have been unlike any other in Wake County this year.
Usually quiet and attracting little attention, this year's race for five seats on what's supposed to be a nonpartisan board has been anything but low-key.
The bids drew in hundreds of thousands of dollars from political donors, vocal backings from the local Republican and Democratic parties and heated rhetoric from outside groups waging personal attacks against candidates – most notably Republican challenger Losurdo, who was dubbed by the liberal group Progress North Carolina Action as "the Queen of Extreme" pushing tea party politics.
Hill, a Democrat, and four other Democratic candidates were also the targets of an anonymous flier calling them "liberal allies" of the NAACP – a vocal critic of the district's new assignment policy – and urging voters "to keep these five radicals away from our children."
The Hill-Losurdo race has been viewed by many as a defining win for the future of the board and the school system.
Democratic-backed candidates won four other seats in the school board race. Whoever wins the District 3 race will decide the board majority.
If Hill wins, Democrats will gain control of the board from the Republican bloc, elected in 2009, which worked to overturn the school system's student assignment policy of busing students for diversity.
Supporters of the new policy – aimed at putting students in schools closer to where they live – have said that they fear that a Democrat-controlled school board would try to overturn the assignment policy and undo other work from the past two years.
Losurdo and supporters have said that a Hill win could also mean a return to forced busing, and she has also suggested that Superintendent Tony Tata, who was hired earlier this year with full support from the Republican-backed members, might be fired.
She implied Tuesday morning that Tata might even quit if Hill is re-elected.
"Look at history. In 2009, when we had a new majority elected (to the school board), it had very philosophical disagreements with Superintendent Del Burns at the time. Del Burns is no longer with us," she said. "When you look at the folks who were elected (to the board) on Oct. 11, if I'm not elected, you will have a significant disagreement in philosophy with Superintendent Tata and the new majority."
Tata said that he has no plans to leave his job, which he called a privilege.
"I look forward to working with the new board, whatever its composition, as we endeavor to raise student achievement for all children in Wake County," he said in a statement.
Hill has long maintained that he plans to support the choice assignment plan that the board approved last month, even though he voted against it over concerns about how students in low-performing schools could be assigned to schools.
"We have a student-assignment plan," Hill said Tuesday. "There are some rough edges. Even the superintendent said we're going to have to go in and smooth some things out with it, that it's a work in progress."
According to Monday's early-voting numbers, 635 were from registered Democrats, 317 from Republicans, 270 from unaffiliated voters and three from Libertarians.
Who those votes were cast for, however, won't be known until Tuesday evening, Poucher said.
Other Wake races on Tuesday's ballot include a number of mayoral races:
- In Apex, challenger Bryan Gossage is running against incumbent Mayor Keith Weatherly.
- In Fuquay-Varina, Mayor John W. Byrne is seeking another term against Michael Dorman.
- Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen is also seeking another term, running against Jun Lee.
- In Wendell, Mayor Harold Broadwell is running against Timothy Hinnant.
- Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams and Rolesville Mayor C. Frank Eagles are both running unopposed.
Elsewhere in the Triangle and central North Carolina, Durham Mayor Bill Bell is seeking a seventh term against Rev. Sylvester Williams and Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt faces challenges from Tim Sookram and Kevin Wolff in his re-election bid .
Voters in Durham County must also decide on a proposed half-cent local sales tax designed to fund a regional transit system in the Triangle, while voters in Durham and Orange counties will consider a quarter-cent local sales tax for education.
In Fayetteville, Tony Chavonne is seeking his third term as mayor against challenger Nat Robertson.