Residents largely mum on election short on contrast

kjahner@newsobserver.comOctober 25, 2013 

The three candidates running for Town Council have done little to separate themselves on policy, leaving voters little contrast.

KYLE JAHNER — kjahner@newsobserver.com

As the Nov. 5 Town Council election approaches, Garner residents range from unaware to ambivalent.

Some Garner residents have some issues on their mind and some, especially longtime residents, know the candidates very well. But incumbents Gra Singleton and Kathy Behringer and challenger Jeanette Hagwood have drawn few distinctions among themselves. So contrast beyond their professions and biographical information has been difficult to come by for voters that don’t know them ... and even some that do.

“I know all three personally,” said lifelong resident Ricky Pearce. “Regardless of who wins, the town is going to be well-served.”

Most potential voters’ only chance to see the three candidates together to talk the issues will be Monday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. at Rand Street Christian Church. Garner Concerned Citizens United organized the casual event.

The lack of conflict stands out among some other similarly-sized Wake County towns that Garner officials often cite as benchmarks – Morrisville and Holly Springs, in particular.

In Holly Springs, the Chamber of Commerce and elected officials have feuded, each side decrying a lack of trust and support from the other. The chamber put together a voter guide this season in which no incumbent — mayor or council member —participated. Candidates cited the toxic relationship, distrust and secretive questions and format.

Over the last couple of years Morrisville elected officials have feuded and drawn attention frequently. Mayor Jackie Holcombe once called Councilman Michael Schlink a “woman-hater” during a council discussion and has accused him of assaulting her once after a meeting. She now has a police escort to her car after meetings. Schlink has called the mayor “an incompetent leader.”

In January, police charged Morrisville Councilman Steve Rao for stealing $1.99 gloves from a convenience store. The year before, Mark Stohlman accused fellow Councilman Steve Diehl of trying to skew the results of a public survey.

Other races, such as a hotly contested mayoral race in Wake Forest, may not reach that standard in terms of combustibility, but Garner’s local politics still seem bland in comparison.

In Garner, candidates have promoted their personal qualifications but drawn few distinctions on issues. All of them promote continued economic growth by working with local business and facilitating development. They all support capital investment projects in the $35.7 million bond issue passed in March, but advocate careful budgeting. They would all take a sledge hammer to the 540 Red Route plan given the chance. And even challenger Hagwood has said the council has done a good job over recent years, offering not even polite criticism.

Not that all Garnerites are completely content or incumbent-leaning.

“They need to fix the roads,” resident Al Almaguer said, referring largely to Aversboro Road and Vandora Springs Road. “The manhole covers are not level.”

J.C. O’Neal suggested that the town council, which hasn’t elected a new member to council in six years, needs new blood.

“(Hagwood) would probably come in with a new perspective. It’s nothing against the other two,” O’Neal said, sitting near Almaguer at Toot ‘N Tell.

Ernest Bridges agreed with the idea of changing it up.

“The woman who threw her hat in the ring deserves a try,” Bridges said, noting his issue of concern was traffic near his home generated by North Garner Middle School.

And as in most local races with low turnout, many voters didn’t know about the race or candidates, either for lack of attention or being newer to the area. Barbara Thorpe, for example, moved from Cary three years ago with her four children and felt guilty for not learning the lay of the land faster after being attuned to local politics in Cary.

But attentive or not, the most voters that can change in Garner this year is one of two seats, thanks to the dearth of challengers. Some could argue that indicates content in the community, where leaders in business, charitable organizations, and residents rarely openly criticize leadership.

“Garner’s come a long way in the last 15 years,” Pearce said. “That’s because of the elected officials, and also appointed officials.”

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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