Wooten, Jordan: Hard work paid off Tuesday

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Tommy Wooten

George Archuleta Sean Lavin

By Jon Hawley, Bill West and Reggie Ponder
Staff Writers

Thursday, November 8, 2018

There's a new sheriff in town in Pasquotank County, in just one of several leadership changes coming after local Republicans notched several wins in Tuesday's election.

Hard work and “putting feet on pavement” led to Tommy Wooten's win on Tuesday, the sheriff-elect said Wednesday while picking up campaign signs. The Republican, and sergeant with the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Department, defeated Democrat Eddie Graham, a sergeant with the Elizabeth City Police Department for the right to succeed long-time Sheriff Randy Cartwright next month.

Republican candidates also scored wins — one by a very thin margin — in two races for three county commissioner seats. In the contest for two at-large commissioner seats, Democratic Commissioner Charles Jordan was the top vote-getter of four candidates. Coming in second to win the other seat was Republican Barry Overman, ousting commission board Vice Chairman Bill Sterritt, a Democrat.

Republicans' other gain on the Pasquotank Board of Commissioners appears to be in the Northern Outside district, where Sean Lavin won narrowly over Democratic incumbent Commissioner Joe Winslow.

However, elections staff reported Wednesday that about 290 ballots could still be added to Tuesday's total. Those could alter or undo Lavin's margin of victory, which is only 86 votes, according to unofficial results.

Those unresolved ballots could also potentially change the outcome of a school board race, where George Archuleta edged Ron Payne for an Outside City seat by just 21 votes on Tuesday.

Wooten, however, won by a relatively large, 975-vote margin, garnering 7,229 votes to Graham's 6,254. Wooten said Wednesday he was excited about his win, and credited it to hard work.

"We spent four weeks, four weeks, going door to door,” Wooten said. “I think going door to door was what put me over the edge to take the election home.”

The campaign for sheriff also included a late-breaking, racially-tinged controversy.

When a group of Elizabeth City State University students went to early vote last week, Wooten characterized their visit as looking like a “circus.” The Pasquotank County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People blasted the comment as “inappropriate,” and “thoughtless,” and demanded an apology.

Wooten refused to apologize, however, saying he had commented briefly on a chaotic time at the polls, and called the NAACP's complaint about what he had said “inaccurate.”

Wooten said Wednesday he had “no clue” if the controversy cost him votes or not, and said he just focused on campaigning afterward.

Turning to his top priorities when he’s sworn in as sheriff on Dec. 3, Wooten reiterated his campaign platform: stronger partnerships between the sheriff's department and the community, youth mentoring and education, fighting opioid abuse, and making schools safer.

In commissioner races, Jordan said Wednesday that his phone is constantly ringing with congratulatory phone calls.

“It's a good problem to have,” he said, thanking his supporters and voters. The victory is especially meaningful since he ran for commissioner in 2010 and lost, he added.

Jordan said he learned a lot from that loss, and campaigned hard throughout the county this year. He also had more campaign volunteers out helping, he noted.

What ultimately sold voters on his campaign, Jordan said, was him showing that he wanted to serve everyone.

Overman said he was “surprised” and grateful to have won election, praising his competitors as good people. Asked why he won, he said he felt he's proven to voters he's committed to the community and has good work ethic. He noted his work as a firefighter and school board member, plus his civic involvement.

Overman said he looks forward to meeting with commissioners — he's already had a “gracious” conversation with Sterritt, he noted — and county staff.

“I want to get up to speed as soon as I can,” Overman said.

Sterritt could not be reached for comment Wednesday. He finished in third place, while Josh Tunnell, a Republican, finished fourth. Tunnell on Wednesday thanked the people who voted for him, and, while disappointed he didn’t win, said he found consolation in other Republicans' victories.

Lavin said Wednesday he's proceeding as though his victory is secure, and said he's “very excited about starting this new chapter.” He ran unsuccessfully for commissioner in 2016, and credited his win to strong support from the many Republican and independent voters in northern Pasquotank.

He also said he had already had a good conversation with Winslow, whom Lavin said he has a lot of respect for.

Winslow could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

In the election for two Outside City seats on the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Board of Education, incumbent Sharon Warden, the board’s chairwoman, was the top vote-getter. Warden said Wednesday she wasn't sure why voters had re-elected her.

“I hope it's the fact that they feel like I have done a good job and will continue to work as conscientiously as I can for the betterment of our schools,” Warden said.

She said she will work to live up to the confidence voters have placed in her. She said the search for the next superintendent will be a key priority and challenge in the coming term.

“Finding the right person to lead our district is going to be one of the biggest challenges, I think,” Warden said.

Archuleta, who tentatively won but acknowledged the vote count could change in Payne's favor, said he feels very humble about the support he has received.

Archuleta credited his support to having a good reputation with parents, thanks to his volunteer work in the school system.

“And the local Democratic Party really helped push me, also,” Archuleta said. “I think I really have to give credit to that.”

Archuleta said his focus in the upcoming term will be safety and teacher morale.

Payne thanked his supporters and indicated he plans to keep serving the community one way or another.

“This campaign has been a wonderful experience and I have been humbled by everyone that supported me and I am truly grateful,” Payne said. “As a successful and effective educator for 22 years, for me it has always been about making the right decisions and helping students become as successful as possible. I look forward to the future serving our community and school district.”