Local News

Voters Have Final Say On Wake School Bond, Durham DA Race

Posted November 7, 2006 12:13 p.m. EST
Updated December 27, 2006 11:26 p.m. EST

— Voters face many issues this Election Day, including a proposed $970 million Wake County school bond and the district attorney's race in Durham.

Supporters of the school bond say the money will go to build 17 new schools and renovate 13 existing ones. Some opponents claim it will switch 22 schools to mandatory year-round schedules. Others oppose the bond plan because, they say, it does not switch enough schools to the year-round calendar. A recent WRAL/News & Observer poll found 54 percent of likely voters opposed the bond.

If the school bond passes, the property tax for Wake County residents is expected to increase. For example, those with a $150,000 home will see an increase of $70 a year, those with a $200,000 home will seen an increase of $94, and those with a $250,000 home will see an increase of $117.

Durham County voters will decide who is to be their next district attorney. This year, there are three names on the ballot -- current District Attorney Mike Nifong, Durham County Commissioner Lewis Cheek and write-in candidate Steve Monks.

The Duke lacrosse rape case has placed the race in the national spotlight. A woman claims she was raped by three members of the Duke lacrosse team at an off-campus party in March. Nifong is prosecuting the case. The three players indicted in the case have all claimed in interviews, including one on CBS's "60 Minutes" program, that they are innocent.

Nifong had a brief run-in at the polling place with Bob Harris, the play-by-play voice of the Blue Devils, when the prosecutor attempted to shake his hand. The radio announcer jumped into his car and was visibly upset when he noticed a television cameraman filming the exchange. He called county sheriff's deputies, who took no action after they arrived.

"The majority have been very friendly. There have been a few people who have not," a cheerful Nifong said later as he greeted voters in the parking lot of Temple Baptist Church. "There was one guy who came by with a lacrosse T-shirt. I didn't talk to him. I might have prejudged him. I'm not sure."

As he waved at a passing car, he noted with a grin: "That guy just looked at me and shook his head."

Nifong has insisted that the election should not be a referendum on the Duke case. But some voters made it clear that it was.

John Straffin, an information technology analyst at Duke, voted for Monks.

"It was just looking at what each person had to offer and what each person was standing for, and not him," Straffin said, nodding at Nifong nearby.

Cheek collected enough signatures to appear on the ballot, but now says he will not take the job. If Cheek wins, Gov. Mike Easley would likely have to appoint a new district attorney.

Cheek and Monks have said they are unhappy with the way Nifong handled the Duke lacrosse case, but neither has gone on the record saying they are ready to dismiss charges if they beat Nifong.

State elections director Gary Bartlett said that with the exception of a few counties, turnout across the state appeared light early Tuesday. About 400,000 people voted in advance of Election Day, down sharply from the 1 million-plus who voted early in 2004, he said.

"It seems like it's a routine opening for an election," he said. "We're hoping for some good numbers, but history is against us."