Victors: Chowan voters sought change

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Chowan Herald

Friday, November 9, 2018

EDENTON — The challengers who defeated two incumbent Chowan County commissioners in Tuesday’s election said they believe county voters wanted change. 

Republican Bob Kirby defeated Democratic Board of Commissioners Chairman Jeff Smith for Seat 2 in District 1, collecting 59 percent of the vote to Smith’s 41 percent. Larry McLaughlin, an unaffiliated candidate, ended Democratic Commissioner John Mitchener’s bid for re-election for Seat in District 2, collecting 60 percent of the vote to Mitchener’s 40 percent.  

In interviews on Thursday, Kirby and McLaughlin thanked both those who voted for them as well as the commissioners they defeated. Both also pledged to make themselves available to citizens.

“I wish to thank my supporters and everyone who came out to vote, regardless of whom they voted for,” Kirby said. 

Kirby also thanked Smith for his public service.

“Jeff Smith deserves a special thank you from everyone for the dedicated time he has spent as a Chowan County commissioner,” he said. “He is a true example of the selfless character which epitomizes a great elected official.”

McLaughlin said he was “humbled” by the trust voters had given him and would “work hard to keep that trust.” He also expressed appreciation for Mitchener. 

“I would like to say thank you to John Mitchener for his service to Chowan County,” he said. “I know his heart was in the right spot and he always wanted what was best for the county.”

Neither Smith nor Mitchener were available for comment Thursday.

Kirby acknowledged taking on Smith was a long shot. 

“From the moment I declared my candidacy on Feb. 12, I knew that my campaign would be tough,” Kirby said. “I would be running in a mid-term election year so there would be no big national races to pull people to the polls. And I would be running as a Republican against Smith who was a two-term, eight-year incumbent in a district which has a large Democratic base.”

Kirby said “everybody knows Jeff Smith.” Few people knew he was, he said. 

To make up for his lack of name recognition, Kirby did a lot of door-to-door campaigning, visiting some 1,785 homes in 120 hours over 36 days. He says he put 1,000 miles on his truck and walked more than 80 miles in his quest to meet voters, even wearing out a pair of shoes in the process.

Kirby said a typical encounter with a voter, after introductions, would go like this:

“Voter: ‘I’ve lived here for 35 years and no one has ever come to my door asking for my vote,’” he said. “I said to him, ‘I’m not your typical politician.”

McLaughlin said he, too, did a lot of retail campaigning, meeting voters face to face. 

“As I went around the district I heard time and again the same refrain from the voters,” he said. “First, it is time for a change, and second, I am sick of what is going on in Washington, D.C.”

Local concerns were also on voters’ minds, he said, as many Chowan residents talked about the lack of businesses and job opportunities.

“Oftentimes the issue of a second grocery store was given as an example of this frustration,” he said. “Also, many people agreed that we need to have more trade and vocational training available at the high school.”

McLaughlin said he came away from his encounters with voters believing they were looking for change and “new ideas” on the Board of Commissioners. He also believes running as an unaffiliated candidate helped him. 

“In this election, I believe that what was happening at the national level affected what occurred at the local level. Therefore, running as an independent was a positive to many voters,” he said.

In the two Edenton-Chowan school board races, all four candidates thanked their supporters, and their opponent for running a civil campaign.

Gil Burroughs was re-elected to a fifth term on the school board, defeating Nancy Heiniger for Seat 1 in District 3.

“First I'd like to thank the voters for giving me another chance to serve the children of our community,” said Burroughs, who was elected to a fifth term. “Second I'd like to thank Nancy (Heiniger) for making it possible for us to run a civil and positive campaign without having to spend obscene amounts of money.”

Heiniger thanked District 3 voters for their support and offered Burroughs hers.

“I met a lot of wonderful people when I canvassed the district,” she said. “As we move forward I ask that we all give our full support to our elected school board members to help make Edenton-Chowan Schools be the best they can be.”

Mason defeated George A. Nelson for an at-large seat on the school board.

“I would like to thank my husband and son, the Chowan County Democratic Party, my campaign team, family, friends and all those who supported me in this election,” she said.

A graduate of John A. Holmes High School, Mason said she plans to get a handle on school issues as she works toward her goal of becoming “an effective team member working collaboratively with other school board members.”

Nelson also thanked voters and wished Mason well.

“It was a great ride and I discovered I had friends I never knew I had,” he said. I wish Mrs. Mason success. The future of our children depends on sound, experienced leadership from those appointed by the people of our county.”