11/08/06 — Kerr keeps his seat

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Kerr keeps his seat

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on November 8, 2006 1:46 PM

For Sen. John Kerr, Tuesday evening played out much the same as many other election nights he has endured from behind a table at the Lantern Inn.

As precincts began reporting in, he watched with tired eyes as friends and campaign supporters extended their hands in congratulations.

"Thanks my friend," he said to each one with the same scratchy, worn voice. "I've been talking a lot today. Seem to have lost my voice here."

By 9:30, the first of three counties called it official -- Kerr had taken Greene 2,413 votes to 1,094.

"They're my buddies," he said when he heard the news. "I grew up in a place just like Greene County. I understand the problems they're facing."

While he waited for word from Pitt and Wayne counties, he talked about his other "buddies," the friends he has fought for since his first term, he said.

"These folks have been with me a long time," Kerr said. "They're my friends, and they know I'm not a strictly party person. I can't be an expert on everything. I could tell you a lie and say I am, but I'm not. So, it's good to have people around me I can trust."

That support group began thinning out a few minutes later as results from Pitt were announced. Kerr had beaten his opponent, Todd Siebels 7,014 to 6,982.

"I think you're safe, John," a friend said. "Wayne County won't let you down."

In the end, he was right.

Kerr carried Wayne 8,363 to 4,530 -- a decisive victory for the candidate who spent much of the evening at the Ash Street restaurant.

Everybody left at the party knew the race was over. Their friend and champion had won again.

"I think you won," one said with a wave as he walked out the door.

"No, did we win?" Kerr replied, winking. "Well, did we?"

It was obvious he was joking. The senator knew he had claimed two more years in Raleigh.

But the win proved a hard-fought victory, he said.

"I'm tired," Kerr said. "And it's tough on your family and on your wife -- things that are said in the heat of battle. But America is still worth it. It's the greatest country on Earth."

And North Carolina is worth it, too, he added.

"It's a difficult task, but it is very rewarding," Kerr said. "I love this state. The thing that turns me on is being able to help the little people. I really enjoy trying to work out things for people, helping folks get by, get a better education and jobs."

In his new term, he hopes to settle some "unfinished business," he said, including tackling problems with health care and eastern North Carolina's water and sewer systems.

"I'm there and I listen," he said. "And I try to do what I can to improve the area I came from."

And in defeat, Kerr's opponent said he felt like a victor, too.

"If we lost, and it looks like we did, I feel like we won," Siebels said late Tuesday. The Greenville businessman and former Marine said the campaign gave him a chance to make many new friends. And to learn more about what the residents of the district see as problems that need attention.

"We've gotten the word out and people know who I am ... I am a regular guy, I've served my country and my community and thought of this as another way to serve."

And while losing is never satisfying, the campaign showed the self-proclaimed "wet behind the ears, green candidate," about friendship and what real support is.

"As a first-time candidate I am just amazed by the outpouring of support," Siebels said. "People were making phone calls and licking envelopes ... I'm so thankful for that."

He said he hopes Kerr will give Pitt County and the rest of the district the same attention he gives his home county.

"He needs to show more attention to Pitt County. We are in fact part of his district," Siebels said.

Kerr said he plans to do just that.

"Having the chance to get down to Pitt County has opened my eyes to the many more problems people face in the eastern part of this state," Kerr said. "It gave me more opportunities to look at those problems, with their university and hospital. We'll try our best to help."