The results are in for this year’s municipal elections across the Cape Fear Region. WHQR’s Michelle Bliss reports that despite low turnout at the polls, there were a few surprises that surfaced late last night.
A group gathered at the New Hanover County government center last night released a burst of cheerful energy as the results for Wilmington mayor and city council came in across the big screen.
Incumbent mayor Bill Saffo will continue the post he’s served in since 2006.
Saffo, who beat out his opponent Justin LaNasa by more than 40 percentage points, is ready to roll up his sleeves for several new and continued projects in the port city.
“We’ve got some infrastructure improvements: Randall Parkway needs to be four lanes, we got to finish the Third Street improvement, we’re still fighting very hard to get that hotel down at the convention center. We’ve had some tough economic times to contend with.”
For Wilmington City Council, only three out of nine candidates were elected to the open seats. The institutional knowledge of incumbent Laura Padgett, who has been on council for 16 years, will be put to use next term.
Margaret Haynes followed up right behind Padgett, and the third seat went to newcomer Neil Anderson.
“Most of these people have been working together for awhile, so I’m the new guy. I hope that we can challenge each other and still remain good give-and-take colleagues. I’m not just going to go along for the ride; I hope to be a new voice and a new face.”
Anderson inched just ahead of Wilmington City Council incumbent Ronald Sparks, who served for four years.
On the northern edge of New Hanover County, voters in Castle Hayne took a firm stance against incorporation with 75 percent opposing the measure.
Mayoral candidate Tom Radewicz was at the polls yesterday afternoon and spoke with many voters both for and against incorporation.
“Most of the people I talked to that wanted to vote “no” are worried about taxes. They don’t want to pay a nickel more in taxes than they’re already paying. The “yes” people are excited about the chance to guide their community. But also, this is our only chance, our only opportunity, to avoid consolidation.”
Over in Carolina Beach, former mayor Ray Rothrock beat opponents Pat Efird and Dan Wilcox, who are both currently under investigation by the SBI on allegations that they benefitted financially after voting for a town purchase of vacant beachfront property. Another municipality under the SBI’s watch is Oak Island in Brunswick County where incumbent Betty Wallace defeated Bob Seidel by nearly 50 percentage points.
The SBI is now looking into Oak Island’s waste water project, which jumped in cost from $67 million to $150 million.
During the weeks leading up to the election, Wallace told WHQR that many residents didn’t pay close enough attention to town council decisions during the planning and construction of the expanded waste water system.
During her second term as mayor she says she wants to bridge that information gap.
“I hope that I will be able to get the information flow increased, not only from the council out to the public, but from the public to the council.”
The incumbent mayor of Topsail Beach in Pender County also won by a landslide this election. Howard Braxton beat current town commissioner Buck Taylor by nearly 40 percent.
Several Pender candidates ran unopposed this election, including all of the Atkinson and Surf City races, but in Burgaw, eight people were vying for three commissioner seats. Back in the summer, during the candidate filing period, Pender’s Board of Elections Director Dennis Boyles commented on the surplus of candidates.
“What I’ve learned over the years is that’s how you test the politicians. If the people are happy about what’s going on in the town, pretty much the incumbents just walk right back into the offices. And when you get several of them for one or two seats, that’s a sign that people are not happy with what’s going on or the direction the town is going into, and they are trying to make a change.”
Wilfred Robbins, Charles Rooks, and Elaine Tyson will serve on the Burgaw town commission.
For uncontested and rivaled races alike, turnout was low as usual this election. 23 percent of registered voters made it to the polls in Brunswick County. Pender had 29 percent turnout and New Hanover had just 17 percent of voters cast their ballots.
One unusual circumstance of the 2011 elections was a brief halt to the voting process at Williston Middle School in Wilmington after a nearby shooting caused a school lockdown. New Hanover County Board of Elections Director Marvin McFadyen:
“Protocol for the school systems as well as the Sheriff’s Department is to lock down the facilities that may be of threat, so we had about a 30-minute delay from being locked down. The polling board voted by resolution to extend the hours of that polling location from 7:30 to 8 o’clock, therefore, we did not release any results until 8 o’clock.”
As the election dust settles and the region’s next leaders begin filling their posts, a new crop of candidates will emerge in February, when filing begins for the 2012 general election.
WHQR's Sara Wood collected audio for this story.