With the official filing period yet to open, four contenders have entered the race for two seats on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners.
Commissioner Thomas Wolfe, who was appointed to fill a vacancy left when former commissioner Rick Catlin won his 2012 bid for a seat in the N.C. General Assembly, announced Friday, Jan. 24 he would not seek reelection, citing personal reasons.
The other term expiring at the end of 2014 is that of Commissioner Brian Berger, who has yet to appear for a commissioners meeting since his Dec. 6, 2013, arrest. He has not returned repeated phone calls asking if he plans to seek reelection.
Rob Zapple, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for a seat in 2012, announced in Sept. 2013 he would once again throw his hat in the ring. In a Feb. 3 interview, he said education funding, environmental protection and sustainable economic development would be his top priorities if elected.
“I had a very strong campaign and many issues that were key to my campaign in 2012 are — fortunately or unfortunately — continuing to be important issues in the county today,” Zapple said.
Skip Watkins, a Republican who lost his 2013 bid for Wilmington City Council by 2 percent, announced less than three months later he would run for Wolfe’s open seat.
“We were No. 1 in all but three or four precincts [in the council race],” Watkins said during a Jan. 28 press conference. “It’s my intention to maintain the fiscal mentality on the county commissioners and work together with the city and the three beach towns.”
John Dismukes, also a Republican who works as an admissions and advising coordinator for North Carolina Wesleyan College, is in the running. With a résumé that includes serving on the crime prevention council, he listed jobs, reducing the crime rate and keeping taxes low as his foci.
“If we can focus on reducing the violent crime rate in New Hanover County, that will make it a lot more attractive to businesses coming in and setting up shop here,” Dismukes said in a Feb. 3 interview. “I’ve seen some stuff at the county commission level, and I think the taxpayers deserve better leadership.”
Another political newcomer announced his intention to run in a Feb. 3 press release. Dr. Chuck Kays, a Republican, is a plastic surgeon from Kansas City who has lived in Wilmington the past 22 years, said Feb. 4 he believes his medical background will make him a responsive representative if elected.
“As a physician … we talk to the patients to get the history, get the information and the consultants’ opinions,” Kays said. “My skill set brings the paradigm of taking the community’s input as part of the process and making decisions as based on facts, and not on a particular ideology.”
He said creating more economic opportunity in the community is the best way to address the recent rise in crime in Wilmington, as well as generating more money to solve affordable housing and healthcare-related issues.
Ricky Meeks, who ran unsuccessfully in 2011 for Wilmington City Council, said via a Facebook post Feb. 3 he is weighing a run for the county commission, but would not make up his mind until the following weekend.
North Carolina’s 2014 primaries are May 6. The window within which candidates can officially file runs from Feb. 10 through Feb. 28.