News: CJ Exclusives

Democrat-Backed Candidate Shifts Control of Wake School Board

Local sales tax referenda prevail in four N.C. counties

Two years after a Republican-backed majority won control of the Wake County Board of Education, the reins of power will switch back to Democrats following school board Kevin Hill’s victory in a runoff election Tuesday.

The most expensive school board race in Wake County history, the matchup pitted Hill, a registered Democrat, against stay-at-home mom Heather Losurdo, a registered Republican. In unofficial results, Hill snagged 52 percent of the vote to Losurdo’s 48 percent.

Between them, the candidates raised more than $500,000 in campaign cash. Outside groups spent $70,000 on a series of hard-hitting mailers, including one that raised questions about Losurdo’s stint as a waitress at a New Orleans cabaret described as “a strip club.”

Losurdo forced a runoff in the District 3 race after Hill came 51 votes short — out of 16,332 votes cast — of winning a majority in the Oct. 11 regular election. Losurdo won 40 percent of the vote; the remaining votes were split between two lesser-known candidates.

The results mean that Democrat-backed candidates will take control of the Wake County School Board in December. Susan Evans defeated incumbent chairman Ron Margiotta in October to tentatively tip the balance of power in favor of Democrats. Hill’s victory Tuesday secured control.

David McLennan, a political science professor at Peace College in Raleigh, said that Democrats did a better job mobilizing their supporters. At the same time, he cautioned against extrapolating the results into 2012.

“If you look around the country, there are all kinds of [election] results that you can read,” he said, “so Wake County is more a reflection of a local issue and a very strong, concerted effort by supporters of Democratic candidates for that particularly position, to retake the board.”

During the past two years, conservative school board members ended the school system’s policy of busing students to achieve socioeconomic diversity in the classroom. With the aid of two Democratic votes, the conservative majority passed a compromise school-assignment plan that broadens parents’ ability to select which school their child attends.

Terry Stoops, director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation (publisher of Carolina Journal), said that he doesn’t anticipate the new school-board majority will make significant policy changes to the plan.

In the mood for taxes

Meanwhile, voters in four North Carolina counties approved a quarter-cent sales tax hike, in two instances by a narrow margin.

In Orange County, voters OK’d the tax hike 61 percent to 39 percent. In Durham County, the quarter-cent sales tax passed 57 percent to 43 percent, and a second sales tax earmarked for public transit passed 60 percent to 40 percent.

In unofficial results, Buncombe County passed a quarter-cent sales tax by 492 votes out of 33,098 cast. The winning margin also was close in Montgomery County, where voters passed the tax increase by 88 votes out of 2,658 cast.

In four separate reports, the John Locke Foundation questioned marketing campaigns by the counties designed to educate voters on the tax increases (Orange, Durham, Buncombe, and Montgomery).

Since 2007, 23 counties have approved the quarter-cent sales tax increase, including Cabarrus and Halifax counties earlier this year. Voters have rejected the tax hike 59 times.

Another local-option tax — this one to impose an additional 0.4 percent on real-estate transactions — has proven even less popular than the sales tax. It’s failed 23 times. No county has placed it on the ballot since February 2009.

Mayoral races

Voters in several key North Carolina municipalities had their say on who to select for mayor:

Charlotte: Incumbent Democrat Anthony Foxx was elected to a second term as mayor of the Queen City, winning 68 percent of the vote to Republican Scott Stone’s 32 percent.

Greensboro: In a nonpartisan race, incumbent mayor Bill Knight lost his bid for a second term to Robbie Perkins. Perkins secured 57 percent of the vote, compared to Knight’s 43 percent.

Wilmington: In another nonpartisan race, incumbent mayor Bill Saffo staved off a challenge from Justin LaNasa to a win a fourth term in office. Saffo took 71 percent of the vote to LaNasa’s 29 percent.

David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.