Sheriff Ed McMahon upset former sheriff Sid Causey by a landslide in a bid for the Democratic slot on the November ballot, and a pool of 10 Republican candidates vying for two county commission seats was pared down to two.
McMahon snagged a clear lead with 80 percent of votes early Tuesday night during the May 6 primary.
McMahon’s opponent Sid Causey served as sheriff from 2002 to 2009, when he retired and appointed McMahon his successor. Causey endorsed McMahon in his 2010 campaign for sheriff but his support waned in 2014, when Causey announced his intention to reclaim the position.
Causey cited concerns about the sheriff’s approach to school safety, gang violence and deputy pay raises. McMahon said he hoped his tenure as sheriff would speak for itself against Causey’s accusations.
“I’ve just tried to stay positive … and hope the community would look at my past five years and judge me on that,” McMahon said.
In the Republican primary race for commissioners, Skip Watkins and Dr. Derrick Hickey also established leads early in the night.
Watkins attributed his success to name recognition from a nearly successful campaign for Wilmington City Council in 2013.
“That’s why I was asked by several people to run,” Watkins said. “When Commissioner [Thomas] Wolfe said he wasn’t going to run, he approached me … because we did so well in our race against incumbents.”
Watkins noted Hickey also enjoys name recognition from serving on the school board.
Hickey tried unsuccessfully to obtain an open seat on the New Hanover County Board of Commission in 2012, coming in only 1,208 votes short.
Early numbers placed Dr. Chuck Kays, plastic surgeon, in a close third place with 23 percent of the vote compared to Hickey’s 24 percent.
Kays served on the New Hanover County Airport Authority Board for eight years, with two years as chairman. In 2012, he acted as president of the 65th annual N.C. Azalea Festival.
His 2014 campaign for county commission was his first run for public office but Kays doubted he would throw his name in the hat again.
“Never say never, but I’ll have to sit down and think about it a little bit,” Kays said.
Democrats Rob Zapple and Patricia Spear automatically advanced to the general election.
Longtime New Hanover County Board of Education members Don Hayes, Ed Higgins and Janice Cavenaugh will proceed past the Republican primary, flanked by retired county manager Bruce Shell.
“I’m gratified to come in second running against incumbents that are well known,” Shell said. “I hope people voted for me because they thought I brought something special.”
Hayes said Shell could be a good fit for the board.
“Over the years when he was county manager, of course he worked very closely with us on previous budgets. I think Bruce would make a nice addition,” Hayes said.
Jim Brumit, retired plant manager and Cape Fear Public Utility Authority Board member, did not advance to the general election.
The Republican winners will face Democrats Emma Saunders, Chris Meek and Tom Gale for four open seats in November.
The sheriff’s race between Republican candidates Marc Benson and Jason Vaughn did not show such clear gains. Early numbers pointed to a slight advantage for Vaughn with 55 percent of votes compared to Benson’s 45 percent.
Benson waged unsuccessful campaigns for sheriff in the past, including a 2002 run against Causey and a 2010 run against McMahon. He has worked in law enforcement for 24 years.
Vaughn is an attorney and managing member of the Law Office of Jason Vaughn. Before pursuing a law career, Vaughn worked in law enforcement for 16 years.
Vaughn said he was encouraged by early numbers. If he proceeds to the general election, Vaughn suggested he might carry on some of Causey’s concerns.
McMahon said he is ready to regroup from his primary challenge and face either opponent.
“Truthfully, I’ve kept pretty busy. I haven’t really looked at the other side,” McMahon said. “I’m ready for whichever one.”