2 challengers taking on incumbents for Chowan board

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By Miles Layton
Chowan Herald

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

EDENTON — Chowan County voters who head to the polls starting today for early voting will be deciding between a pair of incumbents and their challengers in two contested county commissioner races.

Republican Bob Kirby is challenging incumbent Democrat Jeff Smith, the commission board’s current chairman, for Seat 2 in District 1.

Larry McLaughlin, an unaffiliated candidate, is challenging incumbent Democrat John Mitchener for Seat 2 in District 2.

Kirby, 62, is a former vice-president and president of DE Kirby, Inc. Mechanical Contractors. He’s also a former chairman of the Virginia Board for Contractors and a past president of Builders and Contractors Exchange, Inc. in Norfolk, Virginia. He’s also a past chairman of the Prince of Peace Church Parish Council in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Smith. 61, is a farmer and president of the Chowan County Farm Bureau. He also has worked with the NC Peanut Growers, the State Young Farmers Advisory Committee and other farm commodity groups. He’s also a past president of the Edenton-Chowan Optimist Club.

McLaughlin, 66, has been active in a number of civic activities ranging from his portrayal as James Iredell to organizing residents to pick up trash along Chowan County highways. He is a 24-year member and past president of the Edenton-Chowan Kiwanis Club.

Mitchener, 77, a retired pharmacist and former Lions Club president, is seeking a third term on the Board of Commissioners. Before winning election to the board in 2010, he served three terms as a member of the Edenton-Chowan Board of Education from 1982-94, the last four years as chairman. 

In recent weeks, all four candidates have been meeting voters by either going to door to door or by attending meet-and-greet events.

Mitchener and Smith spoke recently at an event at the Chowan County Democratic headquarters. Mitchener, an alumnus of John A. Holmes High School, talked about whether the county should build a new high school. 

“At the moment, I am inclined to believe the best future course is right before us,” he said. “The right combination of new construction and remodeled existing buildings can be worked out.”

Smith talked about the possibility of large businesses locating in Chowan.

“If Walmart … had wanted to locate outside the ETJ, the commission would have no problem with approving it,” he said, referring to the one-mile extra-territorial jurisdiction around the town of Edenton. However, “most large box stores are only interested in the Route 17/(Highway) 32 intersection area, which the town of Edenton would have to approve.”

McLaughlin said he’s been talking to voters and getting the word out about his candidacy.

“I have been listening to residents at the county fair, on their front porches, and by going door to door,” he said. “... I (also) have been visiting local manufacturing plants, meeting workers, and attending as many public gatherings as time will allow.”

McLaughlin drove a John Deere mower in the Peanut Festival’s parade.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “If there is one thing that people do a lot of in Chowan County, it is cutting grass. I have talked to more people on their riding mowers than you can believe. You might say that instead of door to door, it is mower to mower.”

Kirby said he’s mailed 3,248 post cards and hand-delivered another 2,173 to Chowan voters. He’s driven 1,007 miles to visit with voters and posted 232 campaign yard signs.

“I've been aggressively conducting a door-to-door campaign throughout northern Chowan County since June, getting to know the voters, and getting my message out of open government, fiscal responsibility and consistent application of county ordinances,” he said.

The four candidates will discuss a number of topics during a forum at the 1767 Courthouse set for Thursday at 6 p.m. Among the topics they’ll be questioned about are whether the county should build a new high school and what the role of wind energy should be in Chowan, particularly regarding the proposed Timbermill project. Mike Ervin, executive director of the Edenton Historical Commission, will serve as the moderator. The event will be broadcast live on the Chowan Herald's Facebook site.