11/09/05 — Challenger upsets incumbent on Princeton board

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Challenger upsets incumbent on Princeton board

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on November 9, 2005 1:50 PM

PRINCETON -- Political newcomer Billy Sutton ousted two-term veteran Larry Withrow on Tuesday for a four-year seat on the Princeton Town Board of Commissioners.

Sutton collected 88 votes in complete, but unofficial returns. He joined incumbent David Starling, who led all vote-getters with 102 ballots and earned his fourth term on the board. Withrow managed only 54 votes.

"I'm shocked," said Sutton after the votes were counted at Princeton Baptist Church. He said he did not have any comment, but then added, "I worked hard for it."

Sutton, 51, worked on the state Department of Transportation hydraulics until February, when he was sidelined by a stroke that reduced his eyesight. Although some of his lost sight has returned, he campaigned from a golf cart, meeting many people around town. He said he wanted to improve drainage problems.

"The people spoke," said the 66-year-old Withrow, a regional superintendent of the Advent Christian Church, who is recovering from a mild heart attack less than a month ago.

Withrow was appointed to the board in 1998 to replace the late Ralph Gurley. Withrow won a two-year term in 1999 to fill out the unexpired portion of Gurley's four-year term and then won a full four-year term in a crowded race in 2001.

"I appreciate the citizens for allowing me this opportunity to continue to serve," said the 41-year-old Starling, the chief of the Member Services Retirement Division for all 600,000 retired state employees. "It's a privilege and I'm very appreciative."

The votes are expected to be made official Friday during a canvass by the Johnston County Board of Elections in Smithfield.

Starling and Sutton will join Eddie Haddock and Walter A. Martin Jr., whose terms expire in 2007, on the four-man town board.

Mayor Don Rains, who was unopposed for the first time in four elections, amassed 97 votes. About a half-dozen others, including Starling, former mayor George Carlisle and 2001 mayoral candidate Elmer Capps, received one or two write-in votes.

Rains said his goals will to be to continue "to work on our projects, the town hall and town park, and such issues as growth in moving our town forward."

A total of 138 people voted -- far fewer than 312 who went to the polls in the last town board race in 2003.

Rains ran for mayor the first time in 1999 and lost by 25 votes to William Earl Ormond, who had been mayor from 1965 to 1973, to succeed David Holt, who did not seek re-election. Ormond's term was marked with constant wrangling with the board over water and sewer issues and overtime pay for the police chief. Two years later, Rains defeated Ormond and Capps. Then in 2003, Rains easily beat Ormond with 71 percent of the vote.

Starling, Sutton and Rains will be sworn in during the Dec. 5 monthly town board meeting.