Booth calls Woolard on record

Published 7:15 am Friday, March 26, 2010

Staff Writer

An incumbent Beaufort County commissioner challenged an absent candidate on one of the finer points of his record Wednesday night.
In remarks to the Beaufort County Democratic Women, Commissioner Ed Booth said Darwin Woolard “raised his hand for” the highest electric-utility bill in the City of Washington’s history.
Evidently, the vote to which Booth referred took place last year when Woolard sat on the Washington City Council.
“If I had been there, I’d have said no,” Booth told around 37 guests and members of the Democratic Women.
Woolard did not attend the club’s candidates night, held at a Washington restaurant. On Thursday, Woolard said he couldn’t go to Wednesday’s meeting because was busy caring for a sick child.
He added that he plans to attend a Washington Daily News candidates forum set for April 13.
Woolard said he voted to raise Washington Electric Utilities rates while on the council.
“Yes, I did vote to increase it because it was something that was needed at the time,” he said.
He said he balked when a rate-lowering proposal came before the council last year because he needed more data before committing to the measure. Woolard said he fears WEU customers are in for “a world of hurt” because of last year’s rate-lowering vote.
“Right now, we are still a million dollars in the hole for that reason,” he commented, speaking of city finances.
Woolard said he wanted to lower the rates, but didn’t want the council to rush into the decision without marshaling all of the facts.
Booth is seeking re-election this year. His fellow Democratic commissioner candidates are Woolard, Jerry Evans and Sonya Shamseldin.
Three of these candidates will advance from the May 4 primary election to take on three Republicans, and possibly one unaffiliated candidate, on Nov. 2.
These office-seekers are vying for three available slots on the county board.
If there is bad blood between Booth and Woolard, it might date back to the 2003 City Council election.
That November, Woolard defeated Booth by eight votes, knocking the incumbent out of the running and winning a seat on the council.
In 2004, Booth was appointed to serve out the unexpired term of Beaufort County Commissioner David Moore, who resigned that year.
In 2006, Booth was elected in his own right.
Booth and Woolard are black.
Booth has expressed concern that Woolard’s presence in this year’s contest could split the black vote and cause both candidates to “cancel each other out.”
Moore, the former commissioner, has raised the possibility that minority representation on the board could be reduced by one when the vote tallies are made.
In his speech Wednesday, it seemed that Booth was taking on Woolard by referring to the city council’s 3-2 vote to lower electric-utility rates by around 3.2 percent.
The vote was taken in September 2009, just before the municipal election.
The two council members who voted against lowering the rates were Woolard and Richard Brooks, both of whom lost their re-election bids.
Some local pundits have ascribed their losses to the utilities vote, in part.
Brooks and Woolard criticized other council members for prompting the vote without allowing more time to study the issue.
On Wednesday, Booth indicated he was interested in portraying himself as a fiscally responsible candidate.
Booth said the commissioners absorbed “one of the largest debts in Beaufort County history,” tied to the $33 million bond initiative for upgrades and construction of school facilities.
The commissioners have handled the debt without raising taxes, he said.
“We have absorbed every bit of that,” Booth added. “Hopefully, we can continue to do that.”
In an interview after the club’s meeting, Booth said he wasn’t targeting Woolard in his time at the podium.
“He’s the only one that’s running and has a record,” Booth said.
(Neither Evans nor Shamseldin has served as a commissioner or a council member.)
“You have to work on what you have,” Booth added.
Speaking of the other two candidates’ records, he said, “If they had it, I would use it.”
Booth also repeated the rumor that Woolard had been “recruited” to run against him, a charge Woolard has denied.
“No one came to me and asked me about running,” Woolard said Thursday. “I wanted to run because I felt that I could do a good job as a county commissioner. I felt I did a good job as a city councilman.”
For more on Wednesday’s candidates night, see a future edition.