Chatham County BOC

Blue tide in Chatham votes out sole Republican commissioner

Posted 11/19/20

After a general election in which nearly every race went blue in Chatham, Chatham County’s Board of Commissioners will now be completely represented by Democrats.

Incumbents Karen Howard and …

The News + Record is worth reading!

We’re all about Chatham County, and we welcome you to our site. You can view up to 3 stories each month, then registration is required.

Please sign in below if you have an account. If not, please register here to get an account and an additional 7 stories each month. It’s easy and takes just a minute.

Our staff works hard to bring good journalism, writing and story-telling to Chatham County. HELP US! You can get the News + Record mailed to you weekly by subscribing here.

Please log in to continue

Log in
Chatham County BOC

Blue tide in Chatham votes out sole Republican commissioner

Thanks for reading Chatham County’s leading news source! Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing to the News + Record – you can do so by clicking here.

Posted

After a general election in which nearly every race went blue in Chatham, Chatham County’s Board of Commissioners will now be completely represented by Democrats.

Incumbents Karen Howard and Mike Dasher held onto their seats as commissioners in Dist. 1 and 2 on Election Day, while Dist. 5 challenger Franklin Gomez Flores edged out the sole Republican incumbent, Andy Wilkie — with a margin of only 322 votes, according to unofficial results from the Chatham County Board of Elections.

A week after the election, Wilkie had not conceded, and it was not yet clear whether he would ask for a recount.

The Chatham Board of Commissioners is made up of five members, each representing a district in the county while being elected at-large. The board’s other members, Jim Crawford and Diana Hales — both Democrats — were not up for reelection this year.

Prior to Election Day, a few largely conservative Facebook groups criticized the three Democratic candidates, baselessly claiming their policies were selfishly motivated or advocated for selfish spending.

“I will say that there is, in my mind, a stark difference between the candidates — the Democratic candidates that are running for election, re-election and the Republican candidates,” Howard told the News + Record in October, regarding such social media posts. “If their view of local government is that it is meant to hoard our tax money and sit on it and use it for some purpose that does not touch the people, that does not benefit and uplift our community, then I think that government would be very misguided, that government would be callous, and that government would be irresponsible.”

Howard has served as a county commissioner since 2014 after winning the Dist. 1 seat in an election for an unexpired term and keeping the seat in 2016, when she also beat Stobbs. She currently serves as the board’s chairperson. She kept her seat with 25,315 votes — about 54% of total votes cast in that race — defeating Republican opponent Jay Stobbs, who received 21,377 votes.

Commissioner Mike Dasher also defeated his Republican challenger with a little over 54% of the vote. The Dist. 2 incumbent gathered 25,325 votes while opponent Jimmy Pharr collected 21,230 ballots.

With only 322 votes separating the two candidates in initial results, Gomez Flores appeared to take the Dist. 5 seat with a slim margin, collecting 22,624 votes or 50.36% of ballots cast. The 26-year-old Siler City native is the first Latino elected to the board; he’ll also be the first commissioner from Siler City in nearly 20 years.

His family immigrated from Guatemala to Chatham County when he was 5 years old; he’s lived in Chatham since then and graduated from Chatham County Schools. (You can learn more about Gomez Flores and his path to the BOC in this edition’s La Voz de Chatham coverage.)

Commissioner Wilkie, who was appointed to the board in 2019, accrued 22,302 votes. If the vote stands, there will be five Democratic commissioners on the board; each serves a four-year term.

Technically, election results from the county board of elections are not official until canvassing in North Carolina is completed on Friday, Nov. 13, which could include any absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 12.

Concerning the election results, Pharr said he is thinking about the more than 21,000 people who voted for Republican candidates in Chatham County. He said he worries those voters, many of which live in rural areas, may feel left out or unrepresented.

While Pharr hopes the new board considers those voters when it makes decisions, he said he doesn’t think Wilkie’s defeat as the single Republican incumbent will be a real shake up to the BOC.

“Many would very likely disagree with me, but l don’t think it will make any difference at all,” he wrote in an email. “Five-to-zero is no different than 4-to-1. Even if that lone (commissioner) were more of a talker like myself, that ‘talk’ would fall on deaf ears.”

Reached by telephone last Thursday, Stobbs told the News + Record he was “too busy” to make a comment. Wilkie, who had previously instructed his fellow Republican candidates not to speak to the News + Record, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

‘Pleased with the direction the county has been moving in’

Democrats swept partisan offices at the county level. Chairwoman Howard said that although she’s happy with the outcome of the election, she didn’t expect much of a fight for her and the other Democrat incumbent’s seats.

“I think that the general sentiment in Chatham County has been satisfaction and approval of the current board and the things that we’re doing,” she said.

Before becoming a commissioner in 2014, Howard previously served on the Chatham County Board of Education from 2012 to 2014. She said her prior involvement in local politics aided her as a candidate.

Howard has said that two measurable goals for another term would be to work toward county-wide access to affordable, reliable broadband service and increased options for safe, affordable housing for Chatham residents across the income spectrum.

“One of the things I stress when I’m running for office is that you’re choosing a person,” she said. “Whatever they’re doing in their lives outside of being County Commissioner, or a board member of any board, matters. So if you see someone who’s doing nothing, chances are they’re not going to do much when they’re on the board. If you see someone who’s doing a lot, is already deeply committed (to the community) and involved in finding the time because it’s important, they’re probably going to continue to do that.”

Dasher, first elected in 2016, has also served as the board chairperson and also acted as the board liaison to eight county boards and committees, including the Triangle Area Rural Planning Organization, Board of Social Services and Board of Elections.

A 14-year resident of Chatham, Dasher is a managing member of Orange Communities LLC, a property development and construction company. He has said he hopes to work toward the board’s adoption of a unified development ordinance and ensuring broadband access in the county during another term.

Following his reelection last Tuesday, Dasher said that voters seem to resonate with his administrative style.

“People recognize I have a pretty practical approach to leadership,” Dasher said. “I think for the most part Chatham County residents are pleased with the direction the county has been moving in and want to see more of the same.”

Gomez Flores made a bid in 2017 for the Siler City Town Commissioner and lost, but was later named to the Chatham County Planning Board. On election night, he said he had “much respect and admiration for Chatham County voters for leading in voter turnout.”

“This is not my first election,” he said, “but it is the first election in which I got a lot of support. I am humbled and excited.”

“Of course, I was just trying to get a voice for my community, have a Latino Commissioner there,” he added. “I want to provide my Latino community a voice on the county board. We’ve never had one. And unfortunately for my gain, it was the loss for a lot of native or generational individuals who have been here in Chatham County for generations.”

He emphasized his hope that individuals who feel he doesn’t represent them will give him a chance.

“Let’s be respectful,” Gomez Flores said. “I believe respect is bi-directional. It is true that I didn’t engage with a lot of native individuals who’ve been here for generations, but I did get a lot of disrespect from that community. I’m not going to return that disrespect at all. I want to earn their respect, provide them my respect, and try to bring a positive election cycle, positive term, for our district. I really do want to engage with them and hear their thoughts, suggestions, concerns, (and) desires so that I’m able to make the best decisions possible for our district.”

‘Seek a seat at the table’

Moving forward, both Gomez Flores and Howard emphasized the importance of addressing Chatham County’s lack of affordable housing, with Howard labeling it the “bane of our existence.”

“We have continued to be a bedroom community,” she said. “But we are a bedroom community that many members of the community can’t afford a sleeping bed in. That is something that requires investment, but it certainly requires intention to create housing that fits across the income spectrum.”

She added it was important to not think about the need for affordable housing as something only the poorest people in the county require. Gomez Flores echoed that by saying he planned to explore areas that can help community members become first-time homeowners.

In terms of economics, Gomez Flores said he hopes to find ways to make Chatham County more appealing to businesses, and that he hopes to partner with Chatham County Schools so students can learn skills from local entrepreneurs. He also aims to work toward providing a high-quality public education and employment opportunities that pay a living wage.

“I have a genuine desire to serve my community. I am not here to ‘fill a slot,’” Gomez Flores told the News + Record in October. “I realized that if I do not like the way things are run, then I must seek a seat at the table where one has the power and influence to make the change.”

Both Gomez Flores and Howard said that finding solutions to environmental issues in Chatham County should be something the Board of Commissioners tackles. Dasher said goals for his next term are expanding access to broadband and completing a unified development ordinance.

In his September News + Record questionnaire, Dasher acknowledged what he called a “justifiable skepticism” toward public service, but said he still thinks serving as a commissioner is worth it.

“I encourage people to get involved whenever, wherever, and in whatever capacity they’re able to,” he wrote at the time. “Democracy is a participatory sport. Run for office. Show up, be heard. Not because you always win, but because that’s the only way you ever will.”

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Subscribe to The Chatham Brew now to get the latest news from Chatham County straight to your inbox.

* indicates required
/ ( mm / dd )

Get your digital subscription today.

Access all content on our website, including our e-edition, at a discounted rate while also being environmentally friendly.

Get your 1-year digital subscriptions for only $39.
That's just 10¢ per day for the great coverage of your local news!

Subscribe now