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Early voting begins with light turnout

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Poll worker Theresa McCarthy (right) points out to Michelle Donahue where to go for early voting at the Pasquotank County Board of Elections, Thursday, September 21, 2017.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Friday, September 22, 2017

Voters were relatively few in Elizabeth City on Thursday, making them all the more precious for the many candidates for city council campaigning outside the Pasquotank County Board of Elections office.

Only 168 voters cast ballots through 4 p.m. on the first day of early voting, the Pasquotank and Camden boards of elections reported Thursday. Even allowing for a few voters to show up before 5 p.m., when polls closed, that compares to the nearly 300 voters who cast ballots on opening day of early voting in the city's 2015 race.

Apart from choosing city councilors, the city's voters must decide whether Bettie Parker or Sam Davis III should be their next mayor. Current Mayor Joe Peel isn't running again.

It's a decision likely to split voters, as both candidates can boast lifelong city residency, civic involvement and government experience.

Case in point, it split Craig and Sybil Sowerby, of the First Ward.

Craig Sowerby said he's known Davis for a long time and felt he would be a better mayor. His wife, however, went for Bettie Parker. Parker has done a good job as a Pasquotank County commissioner, she said, and she said she's heard only good things about her.

They declined to say which of the five First Ward candidates they voted for, however.

Another First Ward resident said he voted for Frank Caruso Jr. and Jeannie Young for city council. Also running are Bridget Colbert, Alice Redding and Billy Caudle.

John Cason said Caruso's military service carried weight with him and he felt Young would do a good job.

He also said he voted for Davis for mayor, describing his business experience as a key asset. Growing businesses needs to be a top priority for the city, he explained.

Davis is a Realtor, while Parker is a retired math teacher.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Fourth Ward voter said he went for Parker. He liked how Parker has served as a county commissioner, and hoped she could bring unity to the city council. Expressing concerns that incumbent Councilors Johnnie Walton and Darius Horton have been divisive, he said he voted for only one candidate, challenger Jason Gillis.

Of course, Davis, Parker and the other candidates present Thursday had their own thoughts on why they should be elected.

Davis explained the “key difference” between himself and Parker is his decades of governmental and community service, plus the regional connections he's developed as a former county commissioner and businessman.

Parker argued that she's been in public service her entire working life, including her years as a teacher for Northeastern High School. Asked about Davis' business background, Parker responded that “educating youth is a business in itself” and had given her the ability to work with people from all walks of life.

Parker also had several campaign supporters on hand Thursday, including Jackie Latson, a Fourth Ward resident handing out materials for not only Parker, but Gillis and 3rd Ward candidate Kem Spence.

Numerous council candidates were also on hand to make closing arguments to voters.

Horton, a funeral home director and church pastor, stressed his accessibility to constituents on Thursday. He's also made the case this week that he will work to improve the city's utility billing and customer service – a priority for many other candidates as well.

Also present Thursday was Gabriel Adkins, who's challenging incumbent Councilors Anita Hummer and Tony Stimatz in the Second Ward. Adkins commented he felt “great” about the start of voting, and said several supporters had already made it to the polls.

“I know I've gotten at least five votes so far,” he joked midday Thursday.

In the Third Ward, Spence was the only candidate present midday Thursday. Also running are incumbent Councilor Rickey King and challenger Linwood Gallop. Spence, who served on city council and lost re-election in 2015, joked he was back after a “well-needed break” from council. He's also making the case to voters that, as a man of strong faith, he's committed to serve them well and with transparency.

In the First Ward, Young is also seeking to return to council. Known for civic involvement with youth through police organizations, Young said she's shown her dedication to serve whether on council or not.

“I feel very confident,” she said of getting elected. “I feel my record speaks for itself.”

Some First Ward residents might opt for someone newer to city politics, however. Colbert, who founded the citizens' group “Enough is Enough” to press city officials to fix utility billing problems, had several supporters on hand Thursday. Among them were Victora Harvin and Katie Andersen.

Andersen credited Colbert with impacting the community even without getting elected.

“She's the one who started it all,” she said, referring to Colbert mobilizing citizens.

Caudle will have campaign volunteers at the polls as well. One of them, Judy Thorne, said she's one of several volunteers working shifts for Caudle. Citing his work playing music for churches and working with Arts of the Albemarle, she said Caudle has been active in his community and would bring “fresh ideas” about how to grow the city.

Early voting continues through Oct. 7 at the Pasquotank and Camden elections offices and election day is Oct. 10.

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