RALEIGH — In an apparent sweep of four seats up for grabs Tuesday, Republicans were well on the way to regaining control of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. Democratic incumbent Lindy Brown was narrowly losing to a Garner tea party backer and three Republican incumbents won conclusive re-election victories.
If Tuesday's vote on the four candidates for commissioner was a referendum on the county school board's performance, as Democratic leaders insisted, the school board may be able to expect a friendlier reception from a Republican-dominated county panel. But board chairman Tony Gurley, one of the winners, said rank and file voters were more interested in countywide operations than in the controversial school board's actions.
"The questions I got were about county issues," he said.
The apparent shift of the board to the Republican side came in at-large voting and more than 275,000 ballots cast all over the county, as opposed to last year's GOP sweep of four school board seats in smaller district races with much lower turnout.
"The results were better than I expected," Gurley said.
Garner businessman Phil Matthews, a conservative who has taken part in tea party events, was leading Brown, the incumbent, with 99 percent of precincts counted. A hard campaigner whom Matthews surpassed in fund-raising, Brown trailed by less than two percentage points in District 2.
The three incumbent Republicans appeared well on the way to more comfortable victory margins. The races:
Gurley, a lawyer and pharmacist, was well ahead in a District 3 matchup against Morrisville software executive Steve Rao, who billed himself as an innovator and potential fresh face on the board.
Former Raleigh Mayor Paul Coble was leading former Wake Commissioner Jack Nichols in a hard-fought race.
Joe Bryan, a veteran Knightdale leader and Republican commissioner, defeated Democrat Don Mial in a rematch of a 2006 race.
The nominally nonpartisan school board has been under Republican control since elections last fall gave the GOP a 5-4 majority. Members quickly began to fulfill their promises to remake the 140,000 student system, North Carolina's largest, by removing diversity as a factor in deciding student assignments.
But a recent change of direction by Republican school board member Debra Goldman has left their alliance uncertain.
Pope: School changes backed
Wake County Republican Party Chairman Claude E. Pope Jr. said the GOP considered the results to reflect on more than people's opinions on the school board. But Pope also said the Democrats are now paying for their decision to make student assignment an issue in the commissioner races.
"This shows very clearly the people of Wake County support neighborhood schools," Pope said.
Pope said he hopes GOP majorities on both the school board and commissioners will allow both boards to move past the issues that are holding them up. He also said that the board of commissioners will stick with financial issues and not get involved in school board policies.
Staff Writer T. Keung Hui contributed to this story.
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