Local Politics

Wilson sheriff upset in racially charged election

Posted May 5, 2010

— More than a dozen area sheriffs faced opposition in Tuesday's primary, but Wilson County Sheriff Wayne Gay was the only one to lose his election.

Challenger Calvin Woodard, 38, handily defeated Gay, one of the state's longest-serving sheriffs, by a 62 to 38 percent margin.

Calvin Woodard, candidate for Wilson County sheriff There's a new sheriff in town in Wilson County

"I was just totally shocked, but I was very proud and very honored," said Woodard, a State Bureau of Investigation agent and a former Wilson County deputy.

Because no Republican has filed for the general election, the Democratic primary was the de facto election for sheriff. State law precludes Gay from running as a write-in candidate in November.

Gay, 63, blamed race for his defeat. He has been in office for 28 years.

"I think the black community realized they had an opportunity to elect a black sheriff, and I think they took advantage of it," said Gay, who is white. "Ninety-eight percent of them voted based on race. They didn't vote based on qualifications."

Woodard discounted the race issue, saying he ran a grassroots campaign focused on change.

"My supporters are diverse. It doesn't make any difference on race (or) economic status," he said. "It was definitely based on who the people wanted to be their candidate for sheriff. There was no race issue."

Woodard won 16 of the county's 24 precincts. Five precincts topped 30 percent voter turnout, and the county posted a 24 percent turnout overall.

Statewide, only 14 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the primary.

"It's going to be a definite change, but it's going to be a positive change – a real positive one," Woodward said.

Wilson County residents offered a range of opinions Wednesday on the outgoing sheriff.

"It's time for a change. There are a lot of things that have been covered up in Wilson," Mattie Robinson said.

"Whenever somebody needs (Gay), he's there to help them. He gets the job done," Jerry Brown said.

"When it's your season, it's your season, and no one can stop that," Robert Joyner said.

Gay said he doesn't know what he will do after November, but he noted that he believes the recent campaign has created a racial divide in the county that will be hard to heal.

"There is absolutely no question there has been an impact on the community. He's going to have to bridge a lot of gaps," he said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • nbforrest May 7, 2010

    The Black folks went and voted, that's all there is to it. Blacks are not the minority in Wilson County. Congrats Calvin Woodard!

  • Catriona May 6, 2010

    Congratulations, Sheriff Woodard. Wilson County has problems that have needed addressing for a long time, but ex-Sheriff Gay was too busy building his mansion to deal with them. I look forward to positive changes in my community, and I commend Woodard for a classy campaign. The only "colors" at issue here are the true ones Gay has shown.

  • magriffin May 6, 2010

    I have seen Wayne Gay more in the past few days in the media than I have in 10 years of living in Wilson. If it were not for his picture being on his campaign posters I would not even know what he looked like. Calvin got my vote because he personally came to my house and introduced himself. I have never meet Gay in person. That is the main reason that Calvin recieved my vote. It had nothing to do with race, it was about being genuine and having real values!

  • rleann May 6, 2010

    Wayne Gay is the one trying to racially divide the county. But it won't work because Calvin is for ALL people.
    white female who proudly voted for Calvin Woodard

  • T-Heel Girl May 6, 2010

    Any longtime Wilson Co. resident - Democrat or Republican, White or Black - already knows the real Wayne Gay. His comments only offer a glimpse at who he is and what he represents. Twenty-eight years of corruption within the Sherriff's Department and the legal community speaks volumes. There are several within his department that welcome this change and support Calvin Woodard. They too are excited about restoring honesty and fairness to the community. What better way than with leadership from someone who has seen the corruption from the inside? There are MANY whites -- Democrat and Republican -- who support our new Sherriff! Maybe Wayne Gay was shocked, not us. The machine was too powerful and corrupt to continue. Don't make this about race - It's about fairness, law and order for ALL in Wilson County, not just the select few with money and influence.

  • G-man May 6, 2010

    Yep, anyone been in politics as long as he has knows how it works. Probably past time for him to be gone.

  • somethingdifferent May 6, 2010

    Hey Blahh I agree with you, all of Gay supporters are now seeing his true colors. Why is Gay making this election racial (a black or white thing). He should know that there are not enough black people that are registered voters to put Woodard in that seat. It took white voters as well. Gay has served 28 years and it's time for him to go to the house. Now all you black Gay voters now you see who you voted for. He just called your brother a fool. What kind of public official would do something like that. WHO IS GAY, do you really know? People in Wilson County saw that things weren't right and wanted a change. Is Gay mad(suffering from a disorder of the mind) about the election or is he mad about the $144,000 income a year? Thank you Gay now we know that your right hand man (Chris Boykin) is running in November based on race and not the need of the county or the people. So black or white voters take time to pick up your local newspapers, and think about who Gay really is!!! This election

  • manofjustice May 6, 2010

    good ridance this guy had a lot of issues with hispanics as well.

    Yeah I knew that too...and by the way is it just me or does GOLO seem different today?

  • can u believe it May 6, 2010


    Maybe I should have written it differently. I never knew that all Whites are Republican. Regardless of how it is stated, it is obvious that the county wanted a change. From the statements on this website to the 62 to 38 percent defeat he was dealt.

    Seriously, Wilson County is reminding me of the move "Blazing Saddles"

  • G-man May 6, 2010

    I never knew that ALL Repulicans were white. u can belive

    You are kidding aren't you? 94% of registered black voters are democrats. While if you use Webster's definition of "all" you may be right but seems like you are using Clinton's logic of what "is" means with a 94% majority.