07/18/04 — District 1 Congress race will have three ballots

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District 1 Congress race will have three ballots

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on July 18, 2004 2:17 AM

From staff and AP reports

WILSON -- He withdrew from the 1st Congressional District race in May and resigned his congressional seat a month later, but former U.S. Rep. Frank Ballance still casts a long shadow over the fight to succeed him.

Four Democrats, two Republicans and a Libertarian are campaigning in Tuesday's primary for the seat formerly held by Ballance, who resigned June 8 because of a neuromuscular disorder. The 1st District includes 15 precincts in Wayne County.

In addition, two of the primary candidates -- Democrat G.K. Butterfield and Republican Greg Dority -- will also be on the ballot Tuesday as candidates in the special election to fill out Ballance's term. Libertarians have nominated Tom Eisenmenger of Halifax County, a teacher at Chowan College, to represent them in the special election.

Besides his health concerns, Ballance faces a joint federal-state investigation into activities of a drug and alcohol counseling program he founded. Nonetheless, Ballance, who served for years in the General Assembly before being elected to the U.S. House in 2002, still looms large in this mostly rural district that covers much of northeastern North Carolina.

After Democrats chose Butterfield, a Ballance ally, for the special election, Dority called the selection a "strategic blunder of historic proportions."

"By selecting Frank Ballance's personal choice over more qualified candidates, the Democratic party greedily embraced the political will of senior insiders over the needs of the people," Dority said in a statement.

Elizabeth City businessman Sam Davis III, who finished second to Ballance in the 2002 Democratic primary and is seeking the party's nomination again this year, charges that Ballance's resignation and the subsequent special election have been contrived to benefit Butterfield, whom he calls "the hand-picked candidate of Frank Ballance."

Butterfield doesn't deny he and Ballance are close.

"Frank and I have a longstanding relationship and his friends are my friends," Butterfield said at his campaign office in Wilson. "I can truthfully say to you that most of the Ballance network and the Eva Clayton network across the district are working with this campaign."

Ms. Clayton, the first black woman elected to Congress from North Carolina, represented the 1st District for 10 years before she stepping down in 2002.

The district is majority black and heavily Democratic; in the 2002 election, Ballance outpolled Dority by 62 percent to 36 percent.

Political infighting aside, jobs top the list of concerns facing 1st District voters. According to the state's Employment Security Commission, of the six counties with the state's highest unemployment rates in May, three -- Wilson, Vance and Halifax -- were in the 1st District. Of North Carolina's 14 counties with non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates over 8 percent, six lie inside the district.

Another Democratic candidate in the primary, Christine Fitch, also cites small business as the key to the area economy. The East Carolina University professor believes more should be done to educate would-be entrepreneurs about how to start small businesses and where to turn for assistance.

Along with economic development, her platform focuses on affordable housing and health care, education, elderly care and veteran's rights and issues.

"I'm a believer that these are issues that interrelated with each other and not separate and apart," she said. "We have to look at them and how they impact each other."

Davis, an Elizabeth City businessman, said he would push for implementation of a regional authority to fight poverty in the southeastern United States.

Davis cites a 2002 SouthEast Crescent Authority study, produced by East Carolina University, as evidence that the area needs a federal authority comparable to the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority, which fight poverty and encourage development in Appalachia and the Mississippi Valley regions.

"(The study's) assessment is that this governmental program would help create jobs and help to wipe away this band of poverty that" includes the 1st District, Davis said. "Something needs to be done."

Wilson lawyer Darryl Smith is also running for the Democratic nomination in the 1st District. Jerry Williford is opposing Dority for the Republican nomination.