Thursday, July 25, 2024

Challengers come up short in Surf City elections after heated campaign season

Standing from left to right, newcomer Dwight Torres and incumbents Donald Helms, Mayor Doug Medlin, and Dexter Fowler have the preliminary votes needed for council and mayoral seats. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Standing from left to right, newcomer Dwight Torres and incumbents Donald Helms, Mayor Doug Medlin, and Buddy Fowler have the preliminary votes needed for council and mayoral seats, although Helms leads Kathleen Sumner by only 13 votes. Councilmember Nelva Albury, who is retiring, is seated in the middle. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Re-elect Medlin for Mayor Facebook page)

SURF CITY — Mayor Doug Medlin and his allies have won the Surf City mayor and council elections, at least according to preliminary results.

The summer and fall campaign season was divided by two different camps: those candidates in support of Medlin, a longtime resident and politician in Surf City, and those in support of his challenger, councilman Jeremy Shugarts. As of 9:26 p.m. last night, Medlin and his supporters had received the preliminary votes needed for mayor and council, respectively.

SEE THE RESULTS: Pender County 2019 municipal election results

Medlin won the mayor’s race with 664 votes, more than double those received by Shugarts. Newcomer Dwight Torres received the most votes (637) for the 3-seat council race, followed by incumbents Buddy Fowler (545) and Donald Helms (451).

Recount is possible

But Helms’ lead over attorney Kathleen Sumner is tight, with only 13 votes separating the two as of Tuesday night. A 10-day canvas period will take place as provisional ballots are counted by the board of elections offices of both Pender and Onslow counties (a portion of Surf City rests in Onslow County).

According to Pender Board of Elections Director Susan Williams, Surf City only had 8 provisional ballots — those that need to be vetted by the board.

Under North Carolina law, a candidate has the right to demand a recount if the difference between the two candidates in question is not more than 1% of the total votes cast for those two candidates. In the case of Sumner and Helms, the difference between the two is 1.5% — a half-percent over the threshold.

Dwight Torres 551 86 637 23.75%
William J. (Buddy) Fowler 466 79 545 20.32%
Donald Helms 377 74 451 16.82%
Kathleen Sumner 399 39 438 16.33%
David Gilbride 322 47 369 13.76%
Richard B. Vessov 195 27 222 8.28%
Write-In (Misc.) 17 3 20 0.75%
TOTAL 2,327 355 2,682  

On Wednesday, Sumner said if the final count reduces that margin to 1% or less, she will use her right to demand a recount.

“If the provisional ballots come in within the margin of error, then I owe it to my supporters and my community for a recount, which I will respectfully request on that day in writing,” Sumner said.

If all 8 of the provisional votes are vetted and approved, Sumner would need 6 of those votes to land her at the 1% margin required to demand a recount.

Torres: Moving on from a heated campaign

Torres said he is looking forward to addressing the issues and needs of the town using a research-oriented approach focused on facts, not emotions — key for working in a town that had become heated during the campaign season, he said.

I have never seen anything like I saw this particular campaign cycle. I really haven’t. It was tough,” Torres said. “It was an emotional task. Politics are ugly. I understand why now that good people don’t run. But you’ve got to have thick skin and I thought it was worth running and trying to help the town — one challenged not just by incumbents and people wanting a new direction, but also one recovering from the hurricane, being where we are and the work we still have to do.”

He said there was definite friction between Medlin’s camp and Shugarts’ camp, and it wasn’t a secret that he was supporting Medlin.

I’ve lived here a long time, I’ve seen him work,” Torres said.

Last night’s election marks an end to a campaign season highlighted by a controversial mayor’s race, one that saw Shugarts face elections violations, the district attorney’s office recuse itself from that case after a prosecutor spoke at a Medlin campaign dinner, and the surfacing of a mock website attacking Shugarts.

Mark Darrough can be reached at or (970) 413-3815

Related Articles