2 incumbent Democrats lose, 3 win in heated Wake County commissioner races

Wake commissioners District 7 seat challenger Vickie Adamson, left, and District 4 seat challenger Susan Evans celebrate primary election victories during an election watch party at Sawmill Tap Room in Raleigh on Tuesday, May 8, 2018.
Wake commissioners District 7 seat challenger Vickie Adamson, left, and District 4 seat challenger Susan Evans celebrate primary election victories during an election watch party at Sawmill Tap Room in Raleigh on Tuesday, May 8, 2018. tlong@newsobserver.com

Wake County Democrats voted to keep three incumbent county commissioners and drop two others in Tuesday's primary.

Wake County Commissioners Sig Hutchinson, James West and Matt Calabria defeated their challengers in unofficial results. Meanwhile, incumbents John Burns and Erv Portman lost.

Political newcomer Vickie Adamson edged out Burns, while former Wake County school board member Susan Evans defeated Portman.

West had the largest lead of the incumbents, with 82.6 percent of the vote over political newcomer Robert Finch, who had 16.6 percent.

Hutchinson bested newcomer Jeremiah Pierce, with 62.5 percent of the vote, while Calabria defeated former commissioner Lindy Brown with 51.6 percent of the vote.

The closest race of the night was between Burns and Adamson, sometimes with fewer than 100 votes between them. Adamson won with 51.75 percent of the votes to Burns' 48.25 percent.

"Tonight was a win for public education," Adamson said. "I am completely exhausted, and I am going to get some sleep. I am honored so many voters believed in me to cast ballots."

Monika Johnson-Hostler, Chair of the Wake County School Board, announced that schools would close on May 16th because so many teachers requested the day off to go to a protest in Raleigh.

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She hopes that the Democrats who made it forward will come together now after the primary and do what's best for the residents of Wake County.

Adamson was celebrating with Evans at the Sawmill Tap House.

"I am truly grateful for the support I have received and glad to know that people trust my previous leadership and look forward to campaigning for every vote I can get in November," Evans said. "And I want to thank Erv for his service and appreciate all the ways he has served. But I think the public has spoken."

Portman, who was first elected to the board in 2016, said he is looking forward to finishing the last of his term and addressing this year's budget.

"It looks like I may come up short, but we serve at the pleasure of the public," Portman said.

Hutchinson thanked his supporters and said he was humbled by the community support, but disappointed in the decision by some to challenge the incumbents.

"To me it's unfortunate our own party wanted to take on what I consider to be the most talented, professional and public policy orientated folks I've ever had the chance to work with," he said.

Calabria called it a weird situation where the incumbents were the underdogs during the primary.

"Politics, by their nature, exaggerate the differences," he said. "We're all on the same team and want to move the county in a thoughtful way. Once we have a few days of reflection and rest, I think we are going to be able to come together as Democrats."

Burns called the results disappointing but "an election is an election."

"I wish her the best success because the county needs a successful commission," he said. "If I can make the next couple years successful, I will do it because the county deserves it."

The primary wraps up a contentious few weeks for four of the Wake County commissioner races.

The incumbents banded together, arguing they deserve to stay on the board and citing their funding of public education, improving quality of life and economic development work.

Several prominent donors — including liberal activist and Public Policy Polling owner Dean Debnam and education advocate Ann Campbell — originally supported the incumbents when they ran for office, but switched their support to the challengers for this election.

Campbell helped create, fund and chair the Women Awake Political Action Committee, which endorsed and supported the female challengers. Debnam’s PAC, Wake Citizens for Good Government, also supported the challengers during the primary. There’s been at least one election complaint filed regarding campaign contributions during the primary.

The two factions have battled over whether the current board has funded public education, with a proposed park in the southern part of Wake County becoming a flash point in the campaign.

Burns, Calabria, Hutchinson and Portman voted last fall to move forward with the purchase of the defunct Crooked Creek golf course from The Conservation Fund for a 140-acre park. A second vote for the park is still needed, and no money has been allocated yet. The purchase cost would be about $4 million, with a total of $23 million for the purchase, planning and development of the park.

Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes said it will be a priority to find the money to pay for the newly adopted 20-year affordable housing plan.

Commissioners Greg Ford and Jessica Holmes are the only two incumbents who didn't face a Democratic challenger in the primary.

Here's a look at the races this November:

  • District 1: Democrat Sig Hutchinson will face-off against Republican Greg Jones and Libertarian Tim Jowers.

  • District 2: Democrat Matt Calabria will face-off against Republican Frann Sarpolus.

  • District 3: Democrat Jessica Holmes. There are no challengers.

  • District 4: Democrat Susan Evans will face-off against Republican Kim Coley.

  • District 5: Democrat James West has no challengers.

  • District 6: Democrat Greg Ford will face-off against Republican David Blackwelder.

  • District 7: Democrat Vickie Adamson will face-off against Republican Alex Moore.

Anna Johnson; 919-829-4807; @anna_m_johnson

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