Local voters opt for change

Published 2:00 pm Sunday, January 3, 2010

Staff Writer

Washington voters opted for change in November’s election, unseating an incumbent mayor and two councilmen.
Councilman Archie Jennings defeated Mayor Judy Meier Jennette in the mayoral bout, while incumbent Councilmen Richard Brooks and Darwin Woolard lost their seats. Those elections results come in as the No. 2 story on the Washington Daily News’ list of Top 10 local stories for 2009.
Bobby Roberson, retired city planner, was the top vote-getter in the council race, followed by incumbents Doug Mercer and Gil Davis.
Newcomers Ed Moultrie and William Pitt also won seats.
“I feel fantastic,” Jennings said on election night. “I tell you, it was a great turnout, and to go into office with that kind of turnout, with that kind of margin, just really sends a message about the kind of leadership the community wants.”
Jennings came out on top in a four-way contest that included Jennette, a 20-year veteran of city government; Rick Gagliano, vice chairman of the city’s Human Relations Council; and Mickey Cochran, a former Beaufort County commissioner.
Voters interviewed outside of polling places cited the economy and city electric-utility rates as two of the prime motivating factors that drove them to the polls.
“I think about all the taxes that we’ve been getting,” said Washington voter Martha Seighman. “Everybody’s suffering.”
Asked why she believed she had lost, Jennette cited the electric rates, and she noted that the opposition worked hard and went door to door seeking votes.
In an unusual wrinkle, write-in candidate Sean “Nico” Nathan launched an 11th-hour bid for a council seat, sending supporters out with campaign literature on Election Day.
Nathan said he entered the race just five days before the election, and added that, though he didn’t win, he planned to seek office again at some point.
In what was, perhaps, an indication of the level of interest in the election, campaign reports showed that Jennings and Jennette attracted contributions comparable to the money raised by some county commissioner candidates.
“If you’ve only got a one-issue candidate, then that’s not as serious, perhaps, of a challenge as a multiple-issue candidate might be,” Beaufort County Commissioner Robert Cayton said when asked for his perspective.
Jennings’ campaign posted more than $5,700 in total receipts, unaudited figures showed in November. A political action committee supporting the candidate reported total receipts of about $860.
Jennette’s committee took in more than $4,300.
Jennings acknowledged it was unusual for Washington mayoral candidates to attract such large monetary contributions.
“If you look back over time, I don’t think that’s happened probably but once or twice in the last 20 years,” he said.
Jennette said such fundraising had been a trend for the previous two election cycles.
“When special-interest groups have control of the city it’s not necessarily a good thing, but I don’t know,” she said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Elaborating on his theory, Jennings said, “My guess is that was strictly a byproduct of having a well-known incumbent and a fairly well-known challenger.”