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Chatham residents choose balanced growth ticket in county commission primaries

By Roland McReynolds
Posted Wednesday, May 3, 2006

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Pittsboro, NC .- Chatham voters decisively elected leaders advocating balanced growth and open government in a historic landslide victory for George Lucier, Carl Thompson and Tom Vanderbeck in the Democratic County Commissioners Primary Tuesday. More than 59% of Chatham voters chose the trio, which was endorsed by the Chatham Coalition. Voters rejected the failed development policies of incumbent commissioners Bunkey Morgan and Tommy Emerson and their running mate Mary Nettles, who were supported by out-of-county development interests.

This victory affirmed that Chatham residents want local government campaigns based on the critical issues facing this fast-growing county on the Triangle's rural fringe. "Voters turned their backs on mudslinging and smears, and held the candidates in this year's primary accountable on the real issues: balanced growth and open government," said Roland McReynolds, Chatham Coalition Communications Director.

Lucier, Thompson and Vanderbeck ran on those issues, and called for the implementation of the County's citizen-approved land use plan. The three candidates' stands connected with a county-wide grassroots movement that has been gaining momentum in Chatham since 2004. The Chatham Coalition is a local citizen's political organization that formed in 2004 as part of that popular movement. The Coalition campaigns for candidates who respect and value the quality of life Chatham residents share.

Vanderbeck ousted incumbent Commission Chair Bunkey Morgan, who has been the leading advocate for developers' interests during his term on the Board. Vanderbeck won 61 percent of the vote. Campaign finance disclosures showed Morgan received zero cash contributions from Chatham County residents, while piling up $13,500 in donations from out-of-county development interests. During Morgan's tenure, the Board has never rejected a development proposal. "Despite citizens' evidence showing that many of those developments would jeopardize Chatham's family farms, open spaces, water quality and fiscal well-being, the Board under Morgan approved them all anyway," said McReynolds. " Chatham voters showed today that we want elected officials who will defend our quality of life, not destroy it."

Thompson defeated incumbent Vice Chair Tommy Emerson. Thompson, who served three terms on the Board of Commissioners between 1978 and 1990, won 63 percent of the vote. Emerson, along with retiring Commissioner Carl Outz, joined with Morgan in the Board majority that consistently favored big money development interests.

Lucier won the seat being vacated by Outz in a contest against Mary Nettles, former County Democratic party chair, racking up 59 percent of the vote. "Morgan, Emerson and Nettles ran as a slate in support of the Morgan Board's record of unbalanced, fiscally irresponsible and environmentally damaging residential growth," said McReynolds.

Lucier and Thompson are unopposed in the November general election, and so are assured seats on the Board. Vanderbeck faces a Republican challenger in November.

Chatham Coalition-endorsed candidates Patrick Barnes and Mike Cross also won the two Board of Commissioners seats elected in 2004, and pro-smart growth candidates won the Mayor's seat and one position on the town board in Pittsboro's 2005 municipal election. "For three elections now, Chatham voters have spoken emphatically in favor of implementing the policies in our Land Use Plan, which has been gathering dust on the shelf since Morgan and Emerson took office," said McReynolds. "The next Board of Commissioners faces a massive task in trying to clean up the mess that Morgan's Board leaves behind," McReynolds said. " Chatham voters have given the new Board a mandate to protect and enhance the place we call home."

The campaign suffered a steady stream of mudslinging from supporters of the Morgan-Emerson-Nettles ticket and a smear campaign by Morgan himself in the waning days of the campaign. " Chatham voters rejected these negative attacks, and focused on what really matters," said McReynolds. "This election is proof positive that citizens can stand up to powerful moneyed interests and successfully demand government that nurtures and strengthens the people it serves, and that brings the community together instead of dividing it for political ends."

 
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Chatham residents choose balanced growth ticket in county commission primaries
Coalition supporters check out election results on-line at the Pittsboro General Store Cafe.
photo by Gene Galin
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