CARY — Over the years, Cary has transformed from a small town to a bustling suburban community of sprawling subdivisions and shopping centers.
Through much of it, two Cary Town Council members have been front and center, often making controversial decisions that have shaped this town’s growth: Jack Smith and Jennifer Robinson.
Smith has served the longest, representing southeastern Cary in District C since 1989.
Robinson, meanwhile, has represented western Cary in District A since 1999, when the Town Council appointed her to fill a vacant seat.
They are the longest-serving members of the council and were sworn in for another four-year term on Thursday after cruising through re-election campaigns in November.
Ed Yerha was also sworn in for his first elected term representing the town at-large. He was appointed to fill a vacant council seat last year.
Along with Don Frantz, Smith and Robinson make up the Republican contingent on Cary’s seven-member Town Council.
Robinson and Smith have contrasting personalities and have faced different challenges throughout the years.
But some say they remain popular with Cary voters because of their approachability, work ethic and tendency to put the best interest of the town before party politics.
“They’ve established a reputation of being bright, fair and open-minded,” said Erv Portman, a former Wake County commissioner and Cary councilman. “Neither of them are overtly partisan, … and against the political backdrop in Raleigh, the citizens of Cary really respect it.”
Cary, a 55-square-mile town of more than 145,000 people, has seen drastic change since Robinson and Smith took office.
The town has added 13 square miles and 55,000 people since Robinson was appointed, and 25 square miles and 113,000 people since Smith won his first election.
Smith’s popularity seems to have increased as the years passed.
He earned 59 percent of the vote in 2001, 63 percent in 2005, 65 percent in 2009, and 70 percent this year against political newcomer Deborah Pugh.
Meanwhile, Robinson had to overcome a tough challenge in 2009 following her support of a controversial apartment complex at Davis Drive and High House Road.
Supporters of Robinson’s 2009 opponent – current Councilwoman Lori Bush – cast Robinson as pro-development. Robinson kept her seat after a runoff against Bush in which she won 53 percent of the vote.
Robinson’s challenger this year, Karl Thor, raised similar concerns on the campaign trail – but they didn’t stick. She won with 59 percent of the vote.
Despite some of Robinson’s stances, Cary residents continue to vote for her because of her dedication to serving the town, according to some people.
“She’s very personable,” said Anthony Bruno, a Cary resident who has been critical of Robinson.
Michelle Muir, a former Cary Town Council candidate, said she bonded with Robinson before either of them entered local politics. Both are raising families.
“The mom thing was a common denominator for us,” Muir said.
Muir said it didn’t take long before she noticed how passionate Robinson was about improving the town.
“She cares deeply about the quality of the projects that come in and is responsive to concerns,” she said. “She does a lot of behind-the-scenes work.”
Don Hyatt, who lives in Cary and backed Robinson in 2009, cast Robinson’s and Smith’s popularity in another light.
“They look out for the needs of their district first, unless it’s an issue that has overriding consequences to the entire town,” he said. “And they haven’t done anything overwhelmingly stupid.”
Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht