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Coalition-backed candidates sweep Chatham County elections

By Roland McReynolds
Posted Wednesday, July 21, 2004

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Voters Respond to Issue-Based Campaign, Reclaim Ownership of County Government

They outpolled their nearest rivals by margins ranging from 19 to 36 percent of the vote.

In an unprecedented electoral achievement in Chatham County, Chatham voters yesterday spoke out decisively in favor of responsible residential growth, sustainable economic development, proactive school leadership and open government. Patrick Barnes and Mike Cross in the Board of Commissioners Democratic primary, and Norman Clark and Holly Duncan in the Board of Education election, stood up for those issues in the July 20 elections, and all four were elected by overwhelming majorities. They outpolled their nearest rivals by margins ranging from 19 to 36 percent of the vote.

“This was an election dominated by the candidates’ stands on issues, not personality politics,” said Jeffrey Starkweather, Chair of the Chatham Coalition, a grassroots political action committee organized to help elect candidates that support its platform. “When they had a chance to focus on issues, Chatham citizens responded by supporting candidates who promised to make changes from the policies pursued by our current Board of Commissioners and Board of Education majorities.”

“All of the ten candidates in these four races deserve credit for taking the high road and keeping this an issue-oriented campaign,” said Coalition Treasurer Roland McReynolds. “Barnes, Cross, Clark and Duncan won because their positions on the issues were consistent with the demands of the majority of Chatham voters. That does not come as a surprise to the Coalition,” McReynolds said. “We didn’t just dream up our platform of responsible growth, quality jobs, excellent schools and local government that listens to the people. That platform came from neighbor-to-neighbor conversations and gatherings throughout the County, so it’s only natural that the majority of the voters would support those positions.”

Never before has a slate of candidates, all embracing the same issue stances, won all of the contested races in a Chatham County election. Barnes and Cross both won outright majorities in three-way contests. In fact, in the District 2 Commissioner’s race, Rev. Barry Gray also aligned with the Coalition’s issues platform. So 67 percent of the voters for the seat supported candidates who had adopted that platform, despite an expensive onslaught of last-minute advertising and phone calls in support of the third candidate in the race, Mary Wallace. Voters gave both Norman Clark and Holly Duncan mandates of over 60 percent in a massive rejection of the policies of the current school administration, as both ran against long-serving School Board members: Clark’s opponent, Warren Strowd, served 15 years on the Board of Education in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and Duncan defeated 16-year incumbent Ernest Dark, Jr.

“This success is entirely the work of citizens, including the candidates, who reached out neighbor-to-neighbor and committed to building a stronger, more active community,” said Starkweather. “Thanks to efforts of so many dedicated volunteers and supporters, we have taken a great leap in the fight to put Chatham government back in the hands of Chatham’s citizens.”

The Chatham Coalition formed to make this election a campaign about issues. In 2002, negative advertising dominated the Board of Commissioners primary, with huge sums of money spent on attack ads by groups that hid behind election law technicalities. The Coalition is dedicated to an open, democratic process and active citizen involvement. “We’ve reminded the special interests that dollars don’t vote, people do,” said Coalition member John Hammond. “And we’ve shown that, working together, we can make a difference,” Hammond said.

“The voters showed that they are not happy with the policies of our current Board of Commissioners and School Board majorities,” said McReynolds. “The county is experiencing explosive growth, but its economic, educational, and health infrastructure has not kept up with the pace of change. In the face of these challenges, our leaders have failed to take proactive steps to bring quality jobs, responsible land development policies and improved education,” he said.

“Hopefully the decisive results of this election will cause some of our current leaders to rethink their policies over the next few months, before the newly elected Board members are sworn in this December,” said Starkweather.

In the November general election, Cross will face the winner of the Republican primary for the District 2 Board of Commissioners seat, Andy Wilkie, who has run for the seat twice previously. Barnes faces no opposition in November. The Coalition will work actively to see that Cross wins the general election as well.

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