Eastern Wake County lost its only local voice on the county board of commissioners with community activist Sig Hutchinson beating incumbent Joe Bryan during midterm elections.
Hutchinson, a Democrat, defeated Bryan with about 30,000 more votes across the county. Commissioners are elected countywide, but must live in the district they represent. Hutchinson lives in Raleigh.
Three other Democratic challengers unseated the Republican incumbents as well. When the new board is seated in December, all seven members will be Democrats. Prior to Tuesday’s election, Republicans held a 4-3 majority on the board.
“People were ready for fresh set of leadership to move the county forward,” Hutchinson said. “We thank Joe for his service but we are ready to turn the page and start looking at transit (and have) someone who can work with the school board in the best interest of eastern Wake County.”
Bryan is a former Knightdale councilman and mayor and has served as the District 1 county commissioner since 2002. He is finishing out his third term.
Bryan was instrumental in many of the projects that helped Knightdale establish itself as a bedroom community to Raleigh, including the Knightdale Bypass and the creation of the East Wake Education Foundation.
But Bryan, who was Knightdale’s mayor from 1995 until he took his seat on the county board, said it’s hard to pick out one project that he is most proud of.
“It’s more about the people of eastern Wake County than a single project,” he said.
No other current commissioners are from eastern Wake County and none of the elected commissioners are from Knightdale or other towns that are generally considered eastern Wake County.
“We’re going to miss Joe, he’s been the advocate for eastern Wake County for many years,” said Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen.
With Bryan out, the only eastern Wake resident who kept a seat in government was N.C. House representative Darren Jackson, who represents the state’s 39th House district. Jackson lives in Raleigh, but practices law in Zebulon.
“Joe’s local, he knew the area very well ... (and) he does a lot of volunteer things so he’s very familiar with the people,” said Knightdale councilor Dustin Tripp. “That experience is hard to replace.”
Bryan said he is sure the new commissioners will keep in mind they serve all the county, not just where they live.
Hutchinson’s campaign finance reports lists an address just southwest of Wake Forest near Falls of Neuse Road in Raleigh. Tripp, who passed out literature for Bryan on Election Day, said that suggests Hutchinson may not know what eastern Wake needs.
“Being from Raleigh, that’s a whole different scenario than eastern Wake County,” Tripp said. “They’re similar but eastern Wake County has its own character and its own set of issues that Raleigh doesn’t deal with.”
Hutchinson, though, said he considers himself a resident of the area and is familiar enough with eastern Wake’s leaders that he can pick up where Bryan will leave off. Hutchinson said he is focused on education and transportation.
The priorities align with what Killen and Tripp said are important to Knightdale.
“We’re looking for somebody to work with us,” Tripp said. “We just want someone willing to listen to us and be a voice for us. With Joe we definitely had that and we hope Sig can do that for us as well.”
Bryan said he does not have any immediate plans to pursue another public office, but he would welcome an opportunity if it came along.
“I think it’s really going to be hard for somebody with R after their name to win county-wide,” he said. “That’s just the way things are … I can’t do anything about that.”