News: CJ Exclusives

Rematch in SD 21 Democratic primary between incumbent Clark and challenger Aziz

Special master redrew district outside new home Clark built, forcing him to stay with parents

CJ file photo
CJ file photo

Democratic primary, state Senate District 21, Hoke and part of Cumberland county

  • Ben Clark (incumbent, three terms). Retired from Air Force as lieutenant colonel. Education: N.C. A&T University, industrial technology degree; George Washington University, graduate level teacher certification; Southern Illinois University, MBA. Occupation: Information technology manager. Career highlights: Serves as the legislative Democratic Caucus Secretary, Hoke County Democratic chairman, various political and civic memberships.
  • Naveed Aziz. Education: Dual master’s degrees in business and health administration. Occupation: Internal medicine physician. Runs free clinic. Obtained medical training in Pakistan, and completed residency at Sinai Hospital in Detroit. Career highlights: Chairwoman, Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Member of various civic, religious, professional organizations.

Sometimes in politics it comes down to where you live. That’s certainly the case in the Senate District 21 Democratic primary, where the shape of the district, and whether one of the candidates actually lives in it, became central issues.

The district includes all of Hoke and a portion of Cumberland county. The race features a rematch between incumbent Ben Clark and challenger Dr. Naveed Aziz. The winner will face Republican Timothy Leever in the Nov. 6 general election.

The North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation, which studies elections and voting patterns, rates the 21st Senate District “strong Democratic.”

In the 2016 primary, Clark defeated Aziz 49.8 percent to 44.2 percent, a 1,304-vote margin of 23,566 ballots cast.

Since then, courts have declared portions of the state legislative maps unconstitutional. The General Assembly first moved the District 21 boundaries to include a house Clark was building in the Cumberland County community of Vander. Clark voted against that redistricting plan.

The courts rejected that map. Instead, a court-appointed special master redrew the 2018 electoral district map. It places Clark’s Vander house in District 19, not District 21.

Clark filed to run in District 21, claiming he still lived in a house owned by his parents in Hoke County. Spring Lake Alderman James O’Garra, an Aziz ally, challenged that claim, saying Clark really lived at the Vander residence. On April 16, a three-member elections panel ruled in favor of Clark. O’Garra has promised to appeal the decision.

Ironically, in 2016 Clark questioned whether Aziz lived in the district. That challenge was also rejected.

Neither candidate responded to a Carolina Journal request for information and/or an interview.

Clark does not have a functioning campaign website. He is using social media, particularly Facebook, to get his message out. Recent themes of Clark’s posts include job opportunities in his district, state money he’s helped bring to constituents, and endorsements he’s gottent from elected officials.

Aziz stresses traditional Democratic themes on her campaign website.

“We need a meaningful expansion of health insurance, which begins by us accepting the millions of dollars in federal grants that our current state government refused purely for political reasons,” she wrote.

“We need to invest in infrastructure and public education to create the kinds of businesses that provide jobs with living wages. We need to create an opportunity society where prisoners are rehabilitated into becoming contributing members of society rather than locked up indefinitely, and where budding entrepreneurs have the environment that they need to succeed.”

Her campaign has highlighted the potential danger the chemical compound GenX poses to water supplies, and a call to raise the minimum wage.

Although the planned Atlantic Coast Pipeline would run through Cumberland County, neither has spent much time talking about the controversy surrounding the $57.8 million Gov. Roy Cooper extracted from the coalition of companies developing it.

Cooper said he intended to use the money for economic development and renewable energy projects, and for damage caused by pipeline construction. The fund was negotiated outside of the constitutionally mandated method of sending state money to the state treasury and having the General Assembly spend it.

The legislature passed House Bill 90, shifting the money to educational use by school districts in the eight counties through which the pipeline passes.