Negative politics framed much of the Apex Town Council election, as did the massive amount of fundraising two candidates pulled off.
Yet in the end, some say it wasn’t controversy or money that won or lost the election. It was where candidates stood on the issue of growth.
Lance Olive won the mayoral race by easily defeating Denise Wilkie, a current council member who will return to that seat. Wilkie was seen as the more pro-development of the two.
Olive said going forward, he wants to unite the council instead of letting politics make issues contentious. The mayor doesn’t vote in Apex but is in charge of representing the town and helping guide policy.
“I’m looking forward to working with all of the council members,” he said. “Regardless of their past, regardless of their stance on issues.”
On the Town Council, Bill Jensen, an incumbent and longtime advocate of slower growth, won re-election. The other council seat was won by newcomer Wesley Moyer, who campaigned alongside Jensen and echoed many of his slow-growth views.
The two of them raised less than $10,000 combined. They held off two pro-growth candidates, incumbent Scott Lassiter and Carl Helton, who combined to raise more than $55,000. A fifth candidate, Stephen Xavier, trailed the rest in fundraising and in votes.
In the days after the election, those who won seats on the council discussed how growth played a role in the outcome and how they’ll move forward following a sometimes contentious campaign.
Lassiter faced criticism over several issues in the months leading up to the election – most notably for calling Jensen a socialist and, later, for a confusing flap over whether he improperly claimed an endorsement from a longtime Democratic county commissioner.
Lassiter, though, said only one thing caused him to lose.
“The election was decided on the issue of growth,” he said.
The money that developers funneled into the campaigns of Lassiter, Helton and, to a lesser extent, Xavier, wasn’t enough to help them win.
Moyer, despite never having held office and lagging behind in fundraising, was better able to rally more support than Lassiter, the incumbent, and Helton, a former Apex Citizen of the Year.
Moyer said people liked his message that Apex has small-town character that’s being threatened by growth.
“What resonated with people was, ‘Let’s keep that character,’ ” said Moyer, a 34-year-old Apex native.
Lassiter said Wednesday he didn’t want to talk about 2017, when three seats on the council will be open. He said Wednesday that while it was an honor to serve for the last four years, he’s done with politics for a while.
The makeup of the council could change how developments are approved, including Sweetwater, a controversial mixed-used development that would bring hundreds of homes along with commercial development to an area off U.S. 64.
ExperienceOne Homes, the company behind Sweetwater, was one of the biggest supporters of Lassiter, Helton and Xavier. Employees of the company gave thousands of dollars to the three men’s failed campaigns.
With Jensen re-elected and Moyer replacing Lassiter, Sweetwater could experience challenges in becoming reality.
Residents of Abbington, one of the largest and most affluent neighborhoods in Apex, mostly oppose Sweetwater. Jensen and Moyer found support from that neighborhood and from other residents concerned over the crowding of roads and schools that growth could bring.
Jensen previously has voted against Sweetwater – unsuccessfully – along with Nicole Dozier.
But Sweetwater wasn’t able to get the final approval needed for annexation before the new council is set to come aboard in December. With Jensen, Dozier and Moyer, the majority could now be opposed.
The current council’s last meeting is Nov. 17. Sweetwater won’t be up for a vote until after then, and outgoing Mayor Bill Sutton said he would be surprised if Sweetwater is approved without changes to the plan – if it gets approved at all.
The new mayor
Aside from Sweetwater, Olive offered an idea for how he would like the town to plan future growth.
During a forum sponsored by the Apex Chamber of Commerce, Olive suggested creating a three-dimensional map of what politicians and planners want Apex to look like a decade or two from now.
Using that map, he said, the town could craft development carefully, like a puzzle, rather than in a hodge-podge manner.
After the election, Olive said he has been campaigning since the spring and tried to take notes whenever he spoke with a resident.
“That’s a big database in my head and on 3x5 index cards, ... but I’m looking forward to sorting through it all,” he said.
Olive was viewed as less of the developer favorite in the mayoral race. In the precinct that includes Abbington, Olive won 75 percent of the vote. Townwide, he won 58 percent of the vote.
Wilkie said she believes it wasn’t any particular issue, but rather her unaffiliated status, that lost her the election. Olive, a Republican, won the GOP endorsement. The Democratic Party did not endorse Wilkie.
“The thing is, I’m an independent,” she said. “I don’t have a party to back me.”
Wilkie, 52, said she has no regrets, though, and plans to remain unaffiliated. She also said she reached out to congratulate Olive and is ready to work with him and the rest of the council.
Going forward – Wilkie’s council term isn’t up until 2017 – she said she wants to focus on parks and recreation.
“I really want to do a good job with this Pleasant Park,” she said, referring to the 90-plus acres south of town that’s in the process of being designed.
She said she also wants to continue helping downtown. Wilkie is on a committee focused on bringing public art to Apex, including downtown, and the precincts she won were all in the downtown vicinity.
“The downtown business people were all very disappointed because they know I’ve done a lot for them,” she said.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran