What you need to know as the heated Wake County commissioner primary comes to an end

Five things you need to know to vote in November

The 2018 mid-term election will include federal, state and local offices, along with six amendments the legislature wants on the ballot. Here's what you need to know to vote.
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The 2018 mid-term election will include federal, state and local offices, along with six amendments the legislature wants on the ballot. Here's what you need to know to vote.

After weeks of an increasingly contentious race in the Democratic primary for Wake County commissioner, Election Day is finally here.

All of the Wake County commissioner seats are up for re-election in the fall, but five of the incumbents face Democratic challengers on Tuesday.

Wake County Commission District 7 challenger Vickie Adamson, left, and incumbent John Burns

Here's what you need to know about the county commissioners primary before you head to the polls.

What are the major races?

Four races have captured particular interest this primary cycle. Here's a quick look at those races:

  • Incumbent John Burns and challenger Vickie Adamson: Burns was first elected to the county board in 2014, while Adamson is a political newcomer. They've most recently sparred over an election mailer and accusations of bullying and intimidation.
  • Incumbent Matt Calabria and Lindy Brown: Calabria was first elected to the county board in 2014. He'd planned to run for state office, prompting Brown, a former county commissioner, to say she planned to file for her old seat again. However, because of changing district lines, Calabria announced he'd run for re-election.
  • Incumbent Sig Hutchinson and Jeremiah Pierce: Hutchinson was first elected to the board in 2014 while Pierce is a newcomer to politics. Hutchinson is an advocate for greenways and open space, while Pierce has been critical of the commissioner's support for a park in southern Wake County.
  • Incumbent Erv Portman and Susan Evans: Portman has served on the board since 2016 and has been vocal about wanting to find a new way of funding the school system. Evans is a former school board member who says she brings the necessary knowledge about school funding to the county board.

So there's only four races?

Nope. There's a fifth race that's flown under the radar. Wake County Commissioner James West is also seeking re-election and faces challenger Robert Finch. West has served on the board since he was appointed in 2010 and was re-elected in 2012 and 2016. Before that, West served on the Raleigh City Council from 1999 to 2010. Finch, a political newcomer, is the owner of Robert On The Go Transportation LLC, and has only raised $130 in the first reporting period. West's campaign finance reports have not been released because his treasurer requested an extension because of medical reasons.

Plus there are a number of Republican challengers that will face off against the Democratic nominee this fall. Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes is the only commissioner to not face any challengers in either the primary or the general election.

What have been the big issues?

At the heart of the primary is funding for the Wake County Public School System.

The incumbents tout their record of providing more than $100 million in additional funding for the school system since fiscal year 2013-2014, while challengers say that's an improvement but that it hasn't been enough.

Commissioners voted last year to increase school funding by $21 million over the previous year, but the amount fell short of the school system's request of $45.2 million in additional revenue. The commissioners who voted in favor of the budget are the same ones facing a Democratic primary.

This year the school board request is about $58 million. The county manager's recommended budget will be unveiled Wednesday, and the incumbents said they can't say whether they'd fulfill the entire request until the budget has been presented. Several, though, said the budget will include the highest per-pupil allocation yet.

Wake County Commissioner District 2 challenger Lindy Brown, left, and incumbent Matt Calabria.

What's this Crooked Creek thing?

It's been the subject of controversial mailers and commissioner statements. Ultimately, it's about a proposed park at a former golf course and, again, funding for schools. Burns, Calabria, Hutchinson and Portman all voted to move forward with the purchase of about 140 acres for a park in the southern part of the county outside of Fuquay-Varina last fall. A second vote to purchase the land is still needed.

Once the purchase conditions are met, it'll cost about $4 million to purchase the defunct Crooked Creek golf course from The Conservation Fund. It's expected to cost a little more than $23 million, over a series of years, for the purchase, planning and development of the property. It's that $23 million number that some people have pointed to and said it should have gone to fund the school board's full request. No money has yet been allocated to the park.

In addition to public education, opponents of the park say the money would be better spent on affordable housing or mental health services, while proponents say the park is needed in a growing part of the county.

Voters have a full slate of democratic candidates for Wake County Commissioner with a total of ten candidates vying for five seats. Several locations around Wake County offer early voting ahead of next week’s May 8th primary.

Why are people talking about Drunktown?

Ah, Drunktown, will we ever forget thee?

Dean Debnam, a liberal activist and owner of Public Policy Polling, and his political action committee, Wake Citizens for Good Government, has thrown his support behind the four challengers for the Wake County board. It's notable because of the dollar amount behind the support and because he'd supported the incumbents during their original run for office.

He and his wife have each given $5,200 to the campaigns of Evans, Brown and Adamson. He also gave $2,500 to Pierce's campaign. It's been a sticking point for the incumbents who claim the primary has been made more divisive by Debnam and other big donors, while some of the challengers have expressed frustration with the focus on their contributions.

Debnam's involvement — which isn't unusual since he helped Democrats take control of the county board in 2014 and the school board in 2011 — has drawn comparisons to Drunktown, a local campaign Debnam bankrolled that targeted several Raleigh City Council candidates for their support of outdoor dining in downtown Raleigh in 2015.

It's worth noting that Debnam isn't the only big spender this primary. Ann Campbell and her husband are also backing the female challengers with the maximum donations allowed. Plus Campbell also helped create and chairs the Women Awake Political Action Committee, which has endorsed the female challengers.

Wake County District 1 incumbent Sig Hutchinson, left, and challenger Jeremiah Pierce

Can I vote in all the races?

The commissioner candidates must live within the district they represent but they run county-wide. So, yes, you can vote in each district regardless of where you live.

What time do polls open?

The polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. If you are in line to vote at 7:30 p.m. stay in line. You will be allowed to vote.

Where do I find my polling place?

You can visit www.wakegov.com/elections to find your polling location.

When will election results come in?

Most people know the agony of staying up late to see how their favored candidates did on election night.

In Wake County, you may have to wait a little longer than normal. The county will no longer transport the results via modems and the results will come in after the voting machines are transported back to the elections hub. Election results for the county's more than 200 precincts should be in before 10:30 p.m. Tuesday. You can find them at elections.newsobserver.com and at the www.wakegov.com/elections website.

Voters have a full slate of democratic candidates for Wake County Commissioner with a total of ten candidates vying for five seats. Several locations around Wake County offer early voting ahead of next week’s May 8th primary.

Anna Johnson; 919-829-4807; @anna_m_johnson

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