HOLLY SPRINGS — Election season began with a shock for Dick Sears, the towns longtime mayor: He lost the endorsement of the Wake County Republican Party, and now hes considering leaving the party.
The group instead gave the nod to his challenger, former councilman Vinnie DeBenedetto. Technically, the race is nonpartisan.
To Sears recollection, this is the first time he hasnt gotten the endorsement of his local party. A lifelong Republican, hes running for his fourth four-year mayoral term.
DeBenedetto served on the Holly Springs Town Council from 2005 to 2009.
Sears complained after the announcement that the county group hadnt properly considered his 12-year record, or given him enough time to submit a statement for the endorsement process.
He believes he was snubbed because his wife previously supported a Democratic candidate with a yard sign, though a party official said this was unlikely.
Regardless, the about-face has added to the mayors questions about his party.
Will it hurt? A good question, and I have mixed emotions. With the way things are going with the Republican Party in Raleigh, it might even help me not to be endorsed, Sears said. If you look at whats been going on with the legislature theres been an awful lot of dissension, an awful lot of trials and tribulations, an awful lot of bills that many of the mayors, including me, have protested against.
Im just not sure that the Republican Party is held upon by the majority of the populace by being the best of the west.
Sears also noted that he was unable to submit a written statement during the selection process because he was given only a days notice. But the missing statement had no effect on the selection committees choice, according to Donna Williams, chairwoman of the county Republican party.
Honestly, it was more of a courtesy to ask him for his words. We know him, and hes served his community a long time, Williams said. We truly looked at each person.
She declined to detail why the party preferred DeBenedetto.
For his part, DeBenedetto doesnt think the endorsement will have much effect on the race.
Although its flattering, the real impact is pretty minimal, he said. In a nonpartisan race, that fact really plays no major role in getting my message out to all members of the community.
Though both candidates identify themselves as conservative, neither has put cuts to government atop his platform.
Sears names public safety, growth and communication as the primary responsibilities of a municipal government, while DeBenedetto says he would put more attention on fiscal health, planning and communication.
One emerging difference: DeBenedetto has expressed reservations about the towns recreational expansion, particularly its planned $10 million stadium and athletic park.
As the race continues, debates about such spending priorities could get much more play than the preferences of local party officials.
Kenney: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @KenneyOnCary