05/10/04 — Who will win Wayne's political game?

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Who will win Wayne's political game?

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on May 10, 2004 1:59 PM

Pundits often describe politics as a horse race, but a basketball playoff might be a better metaphor:

"After Friday's results, the Wayne County Donkeys now lead the series 2-1. But the Elephants will have the edge in experience and home-court advantage in some of the games to come, and this is a best-of-seven affair.

"This one's going right down to the wire, sports fans!"

Ever since Democrats narrowly retained control of the Wayne County Board of Commissioners in 2000, sweating out two races that turned in their favor late on Election Night, both parties have been preparing for the rematch this fall.

Political concerns have led to a drawn-out redistricting process, which began in April 2001 but didn't conclude until a partisan vote last fall.

Both parties had hoped to field candidates for all seven offices that are open in November.

But the Democrats weren't able to find anyone to challenge Andy Anderson, a three-term representative of fast-growing, increasingly conservative northern Wayne County.

And Republicans could not field candidates to face Democrats John M. Bell and J.D. Evans in the county's two black-majority districts.

When filing closed Friday, those three commissioners were practically guaranteed re-election. Should any of the three resign, the remaining commissioners are obligated by state law to appoint someone from their political party and district as a replacement. Democrats hold a 2-1 advantage going into this summer and perhaps fall.

Will Democrats retain their historical control of county government or will Republicans hold their first majority in at least 100 years?

These races will decide it:

*In District 4, Commissioner Efton Sager, a Republican, faces Mark Hood, a CP&L retiree and political newcomer. Sager has run twice in the district, in 1996 and 2000, and won once. The district includes most of western Wayne and is 90 percent white. Democrats make up slightly less than half the registered voters, and the district has voted strongly for Republicans in the past two elections. The drive for a Grantham high school will likely be a campaign issue.

*In District 5, Wharton, the county GOP chairman, will take on Roland "Bud" Gray, the long-time chief of the New Hope Volunteer Fire Department. The district includes most of eastern and southeastern Wayne, excluding areas along U.S. 70 and the village of Walnut Creek. It has 46 percent registered Democrats, 39 percent Republicans, and 15 percent unaffiliated, the county's highest percentage of those voters. It went for Republican Arnold Flowers in 2000, but the lines have been tweaked. The sprawling nature of the district makes it notoriously hard to campaign in.

*In District 6, Jack Best, a Democrat who was sworn into office this week, will have at least one challenger, Roger Bedford, who has been a GOP precinct chairman. Democrats make up more than 52 percent of voters in the district, which includes parts of Goldsboro, eastern Wayne and Walnut Creek. Best is a former Walnut Creek councilman.

*Incumbent Atlas Price, a Democrat with 14 years experience, will run against real estate agent Hal Keck, a Republican making his first run for office, for the county board's at-large seat, the only one elected countywide. Overall, Democrats make up 53 percent of the county's registered voters; Republicans, 33 percent and unaffiliated, 14 percent. But Price barely survived his 2000 challenge by a Republican newcomer. Keck has already been campaigning for more than a year, which makes the Price-Keck race one to watch.

A wild card in this race could be Len Henderson, who has been trying to mount a campaign as an unaffiliated candidate. He has until June 25 to gather enough signatures on petitions to be included on the ballot.