DURHAM — Durham County Commissioner Joe Bowser resigned from his elected seat Wednesday after failing to secure a seat in Tuesdays Democratic primary.
There are some big decisions this board will be making soon, and I feel it would be better for a member who will continue beyond this year to assist in making those decisions, Bowser wrote in an email sent to his fellow commissioners and County Manager Mike Ruffin Wednesday afternoon. I have enjoyed my tenure on the board and wish my fellow board members the best!
Bowser didnt return calls seeking comment.
Bowser, whose term didnt officially expire until December, finished seventh in the 14-person race for the five seats on the Durham County Board of Commissioners.
The top five vote getters include incumbents Ellen Reckhow, Brenda Howerton, and Michael Page. Challengers Fred Foster Jr., president of the Durham branch of the NAACP, and community activist Wendy Jacobs also secured spots.
Bowser garnered 17,098 votes, or 268 votes behind sixth-place contender Duke professor Will Wilson, according to unofficial results.
Bower was first elected to the board in 1996 and held office until he lost a bid for re-election in 2004. He was elected again in 2008.
Durham County commissioners said the early afternoon email from Bowser took them by surprise, and they plan to discuss the process to fill his seat at Mondays meeting. Bowsers resignation will also open up his spot on the Department of Social Services Board, in which he served as the commissioners liaison.
Joe and I have had our moments over the years, but I do respect Joes work for the community, Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said. I am not just saying that; he has served a valuable role on our board.
Reckhow said Bowsers legacy includes his fight for the sometimes forgotten poor and others who need help.
He has been very vocal about helping folks, Reckhow said.
Over the years, Bowser has been a complex and sometimes controversial commissioners. In the past year, Bowser has unsuccessfully sought for the Durham Police Department to take action against a neighbor he said had harassed him and his family for years. Bowser contends some of his neighbors actions include poisoning shrubbery and putting chemicals into his air-conditioning, causing a severe eye irritation to his young granddaughter. Police indicated they couldnt find tangible evidence to support Bowsers accusations.
Bowser also played a key part in the controversial July firing of Durham County Department of Social Services Director Gerri Robinson. Bowser and other DSS board members questioned Robinsons spending on consultants, and contended Robinsons leadership was divisive and costing longtime community partnerships. Robinson filed a lawsuit earlier this year contending county and DSS officials violated her civil rights when they ignored her complaints about Bowser, who she says in turn maliciously orchestrated her July firing. Bowser is the only defendant named in the lawsuit as an individual, or outside of his capacity as an elected official.
Jackie Brown, a political consultant who worked on the Jacobs campaign, said she doesnt think those issues resulted in Bowsers loss, but pointed to his support for the Southern Durham Developments controversial 751 South, a 1,300-home, mixed-use project proposed for southwest Durham County near Jordan Lake.
Brown also said Bowsers heart just didnt appear to be in the race this year.
In the 2008 election, Bowser was campaigning when the Board of Elections opened until it closed. Brown said didnt see anything like that this time.
I am really just not sure he had the same fire for his belly this time as he had for past elections, she said.
Brown said she asked Bowser what he would do if he didnt get elected, and he said he would take care of his granddaughter and a second grandchild that is on the way.
I hate it, but sometimes I think you have to make decisions that are best for yourself, Brown said.