Wake County

Surprise candidates prompt Wake board primaries

Republicans and Democrats each thought they had their candidates lined up for the Wake County Board of Commissioners in newly-created District B.

And then, it turned out, both parties have a primary.

Monday was the last day that candidates could file to run for one of five district seats on the nine-member Wake board of commissioners, the body that governs everything from property and sales tax rates to public school funding.

Four of the seats are contested, meaning at least one Democrat and one Republican has filed in the district. (Incumbent commissioner James West is running unopposed in District 5.)

But only in District B, one of two new “super” districts state lawmakers created in April as part of several changes, is there a primary. In fact, there are two.

And, though the local parties won’t endorse anyone in the primary races, the entry of two candidates came as a surprise to party leaders.

Charles Hellwig, a Wake County Republican Party vice chairman, walked into the candidate filing office with former commissioner Phil Matthews when Matthews filed to run on Dec. 7.

And then Fuquay-Varina attorney John Adcock, a political newcomer, filed to run a few days later. He’ll face Matthews, of Garner, in the March 15 Republican primary.

Brian Fitzsimmons, Wake Democratic Party chairman, walked Morrisville councilwoman Vicki Scroggins-Johnson to the candidate filing office on Dec. 17.

And then, with the filing deadline hours away Monday morning, former commissioner Lindy Brown entered the race. She’ll face Scroggins-Johnson in the Democratic primary.

“These things can surely be unpredictable,” Commissioner Matt Calabria quipped.

Brown’s entry was most surprising. Brown, who served on the board from 2006 to 2010, announced in October that she would run for the North Carolina House of Representatives in District 37.

Brown said she changed her mind Sunday night after praying about the input she received from friends and political advisers.

“I already have an inside track and know what kind of services citizens expect,” Brown said when asked why she changed her mind. “Being a legislator, I’d go in with a learning curve.”

Brown, of Raleigh, said her decision had nothing to do with Scroggins-Johnson. Both candidates align themselves with the sitting Democratic board, which earlier this year raised property taxes 3.65 cents per $100 in property valuation to boost funding for the Wake school system. The board also supports funding an expanded countywide transit system.

But Brown said she thinks she has the experience, connections and time needed to beat a potential Republican candidate and help the board govern. Brown is a retired social worker, while Scroggins-Johnson is a project manager at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.

Scroggins-Johnson, though, thinks her work and business experience give her an advantage.

“I feel like my strong business skills and practical approach to problem solving is different from my opponent,” Scroggins-Johnson said in an interview Tuesday.

Republican voters will face similar questions at the polls. That is, do they want a candidate with experience on the board, or someone who touts business experience and fresh ideas?

Matthews is a retired sales manager who served on the board from 2010 to 2014. Adcock, who practices business and real estate law, thinks his experience with land-use issues in the area better equip him for growth-related issues.

Do voters want a candidate recruited – although not endorsed – by local party leadership?

Do they want a candidate who’s been a vocal critic of the all-Democratic board? Or do they want someone who has reached out to them?

Matthews, who once aligned with the Tea Party, has spoken out against the board at meetings and on social media. Adcock, meanwhile, recently emailed commissioner Calabria to arrange a meeting to talk about local issues.

“I do believe that we need to be willing to get things done and work together,” Adcock said. “That doesn’t mean that we’re straying from our platform, or endorsing their politics.”

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht