Veteran incumbent Betty Lou Ward and first-time candidate Caroline Sullivan won seats on the Wake County Board of Commissioners by large margins Tuesday, with both Democrats outpolling Republican opponents by about 65,000 votes each.
A late tally of early voters apparently meant the margin of victory for Ward, who defeated mortgage broker Paul Fitts in District 6, and for Caroline Sullivan, who defeated Dale Cooke, a high-tech executive, in District 4. Their wins mean the Democrats maintained their three-member minority contingent on the seven-member board. None of the board’s Republican majority was on this year’s ballot.
With all 200 precincts reporting, the Democratic candidates both tallied about 57 percent of some 475,000 votes cast in each race.
Ward, who has spent 24 years on the panel, continued her reliance on staple Democratic issues, such as supporting school construction and mass transit. Those themes and Ward’s years of service apparently held the ground against Fitts’ pitch about adopting creative new approaches to government.
In District 4, Sullivan, a Raleigh resident who once raised funds for legislative leader Marc Basnight, also campaigned on strong schools and quality of life in Wake, while Cooke emphasized tightening up government spending and keeping taxes low. Commissioner James West, the third member of the Democratic contingent, retained his seat without opposition.
Democrats hope to regain control of the board in 2014, when the seats of the four current Republican members will be on the ballot. The Republican-controlled board has been at odds with the most recent Wake County Board of Education, which is controlled by Democrats.
The commissioners control a budget of more than $900 million and provide services to a population that’s nearing 1 million people. The panel has control of the school board’s budget, and makes decisions on the appearance on the ballot of referendum items, such as the proposed vote on raising the sales tax to fund Wake’s portion of a transit initiative.
In addition, the board will be working on a bond issue for schools construction, which system officials have said will be necessary in 2013 to meet the projected arrival of tens of thousands of new students in coming decades.
Sullivan fills the vacated seat of Erv Portman, who had been appointed to replace an ailing Stan Norwalk. Portman was behind in the competition with Republican Tamara Barringer for the state Senate seat held by the retiring Richard Stevens.