GARNER — The race for two open Town Council seats has been so innocuous, there has yet to be a candidate forum and some voters don’t even know on which day the race will be decided.
Not that a candidate forum would reveal many discrepancies in the three-person non-partisan race to be decided Nov. 5.
Jeanette Hagwood’s entry into the race against incumbents has thus far remained the most aggressive move in a council race that could leave voters who don’t know the candidates wondering the difference between them.
“I think the local races people vote for people. They know the people one-on-one,” said Gra Singleton, in his fifth term and the most tenured council member. “Local politics is a lot more personal.”
All three candidates in the race have expressed mutual admiration for each other and they hesitate to point out differences. Political parties have been all but irrelevant in Garner politics of late, and even the challenger has praised the council’s work in recent years.
“I would certainly never speak negatively of either of the incumbents. They’re friends of mine,” Hagwood said.
Incumbent Kathy Behringer said a lot of the focus has been on the school bond vote, which will be decided during an Oct. 8 election along with four school board seats and Cary and Raleigh municipal slots. Candidates said some residents seem unaware that Garner’s council election comes nearly a month later.
“Nobody seems to be unhappy,” Behringer said of a race she called “very positive,” before pausing. “I did run into one gentleman who didn’t seem pleased with much of anything, but if I only run into one that will be a miracle.”
Behringer, who said she was humbled as the top vote-getter in 2009 after winning her seat by just 11 votes in 2005, said either of her opponents would be strong council members.
“The current council works. We may be an anomaly. We all work really well together,” Behringer said, before also backing the challenger. “If Jeanette wins, I don’t think that will be a loss for Garner. She is an intelligent woman, she has a lot to offer.”
Singleton thinks the school board and bond race, both of which will have a major effect on Garner with local bond money and the Garner district’s seat on the line have captured the lion’s share of the attention. The town council has endorsed the school bond, which would be a huge investment in Garner schools.
“We’ll be campaigning real hard after Oct. 8,” Behringer said.
Hagwood, like the other incumbents, spoke of smooth sailing in her entry into politics.
“I am thoroughly enjoying the process. I love talking to the people, hearing their concerns,” Hagwood said.
All three candidates look forward to helping the town spend a $35.7 million bond that all three supported. Hagwood, a registered Republican, said her experience in business and in the past year on the Garner Volunteer Fire and Rescue board of directors positioned her well to help manage the projects in coming years, along with the regular budget.
“I look forward to the budget process and see for myself...The town budget is a lot larger than the small business I run, but a budget is a budget, and I get it. I think that has prepared me,” Hagwood said. “I don’t think it’s ego, I don’t know that I can say I can do a better job, but if you don’t have a little bit of ego and think you can do a better job you shouldn’t run.”
Hagwood also thinks the fee structure has long needed to be examined and taxes kept low. The town is in the midst of a series of meetings with developers to get feedback in anticipation of a report on the issue in mid-October, a move she praised as the type of thing she’d like to do more of with the council.
All three candidates pointed to the importance of advocating for Garner schools, though the town has no direct authority over them. Singleton, the youngest in the race despite his experience, noted that he was the only candidate with children still in the public school system.
“I see things from a little different perspective. It’s a different way of looking at things,” Singleton said.
Behringer spoke about the growth and the bond, and her willingness to spent money. Behringer says she’s conservative but not a right-wing Republican, allowing for the importance of investing in the town by taking on debt.
“You can direct growth or be run over by it. I wanted to direct it. If you do nothing, things change; the problem is they get worse,” Behringer said. “A teacher told me in high school that the only sure thing in this life is that things will change.”
Meanwhile Singleton, a Democrat, often provides one of the more contrarian voices in the council on costs. And Hagwood also said that her Republican status has had little effect.
“I’m glad its non-partisan, because we can focus on the issues and not focus on the parties. I’m finding it’s a non-issue,” Hagwood said.
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland