Cary election season is quietest in years

akenney@newsobserver.comSeptember 8, 2013 

  • Elections are Oct. 8 in Cary

    Town Council seats on the ballot:

    At-large: Appointed incumbent Ed Yerha runs uncontested.

    District A: Karl Thor challenges 12-year incumbent Jennifer Robinson.

    District C: Deborah Pugh challenges 24-year incumbent Jack Smith.

— Ed Yerha was ready bright and early for this election season. Appointed to the Cary Town Council in August 2012, he joined the board without an electoral fight.

There wasn’t a doubt that a challenger would try to knock the newbie off the bench in this fall’s election.

So Yerha registered his campaign on the first day of filing, July 5, and prepared to face his opponents.

Then he waited. And waited some more.

“Every day … I just kept looking at” the candidate list, Yerha said. “I would look, and nothing, and nothing, and nothing.”

On July 19, the last day for candidates to file for office, he got an email from a friend: “Congratulations!” Months before the election on Oct. 8, Yerha had all but won the seat.

It’s the first one-candidate race in Cary in 10 years – and it’s symptomatic of a low-interest election.

In all, only five candidates are running for three open seats in a town of more than 140,000 residents. That’s the fewest candidates on record in Cary, even in a year marked by arguments about the town’s future and spending priorities.

For Yerha, it’s a blessing. Besides a lot of door-to-door walking, he estimates that his townwide campaign would have cost about $30,000 – which is one possible explanation for the low candidate count.

The town’s population has expanded by about 40 percent in a decade, greatly increasing the cost of sending mailers to all its registered voters.

There’s no lack of political interest in the area. Almost 60 people applied for appointment to the seat Yerha now holds, which went vacant last year.

Hundreds of people said they wanted to join the town’s Committee for the Future; and the town’s decisions about downtown investment and aging water towers are fodder for countless online conversations.

Fiery debates in the past

But none of that compares to the heady days of 1999, when 15 candidates filled the ballot, or 2007, when 11 candidates ran and Mayor Harold Weinbrecht ousted incumbent Ernie McAlister. Those days were marked by fiery debates about the pace of growth and infrastructure planning.

Karl Thor, one of two challengers in this election, first made his mark in local politics during those development battles. His community group, DavisandHighHouse.org, was a key player in the debates leading up to Weinbrecht’s upset victory.

Seeing no challengers to longtime incumbent Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson, Thor filed on the third-to-last day to represent western Cary.

“I said, ‘Jeez, nobody's running against her, and I’ve been critical. It’s time to man up and do it,’” he recalled.

His campaign will center on the idea that the town is too friendly to the developers who have filled its western flank with shopping centers and subdivisions. The costs of growth have burdened the town, he said.

“Stop coddling the developer,” Thor said, citing town surveys that constantly draw high volumes of comments about growth and growth-related problems. He argues that the town doesn’t properly present or consider the negative impacts of continued development, including the expense that current residents pay to build infrastructure as the population grows.

He’s hoping to argue that point, however, without dipping into the bitter debates that have marked council races in the past. He figures that if he has fun while running, and avoids breaking the bank, he might encourage future candidates.

‘They don’t really see any problems’

Robinson said she can’t explain why this election season has been relatively slow.

“I just don't know. It’s been very quiet,” she said.

She’ll be pursuing her usual platform, she said: “fiscal conservancy, environmental protection and excellent representation for citizens.”

Several current council members take the glacial election season as a compliment. Councilman Don Frantz figures that there has been less anger and disappointment to drive challengers in recent years – and he’s joined in that assessment by one of the council’s critics.

“The reality is most people are happy with the town. They don't really see any problems,” said Anthony Bruno, a retiree who frequently criticizes the town’s use of taxpayer dollars to boost private businesses downtown. He says he’s one of about a dozen people who consistently takes the town to task.

“I feel like I’m a lone voice,” Bruno said. “… But I guess we’ll know in October.”

Kenney: 919-460-2608 or Twitter: @KenneyOnCary

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