Monday, April 22, 2024

New Hanover County will see two new commissioners, same party makeup

Jonathan Barfield Jr., Deb Hays, and Bill Rivenbark were all elected to serve on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, should Tuesday night's election results hold. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Barfield, Hays, and Rivenbark)
Jonathan Barfield Jr., Deb Hays, and Bill Rivenbark were all elected to serve on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, should Tuesday night’s election results hold. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Barfield, Hays, and Rivenbark)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners will see two new members and the return of a longtime board member.

Should county-level election results hold from Tuesday evening, voters elected Bill Rivenbark (R), Deb Hays (R), and Jonathan Barfield, Jr (D). as the commission’s three newest members.

Related: 2020 Election: County-level election results in the Cape Fear region [Free read]

Rivenbark earned the most votes (60,249), at 17.5% of the total. About 1,600 votes behind Rivenbark, Hays came in second, with 17% of the vote, followed by Barfield, who trailed by just 564 votes and earned 16.9%.

Separated by just 0.14% margin, former commissioner Skip Watkins (R) fell just 477 votes short from earning a spot on the board behind Barfield.

Rivenbark and Hays will replace outgoing Republican commissioners Pat Kusek and Woody White, leaving the political makeup of the board the same: 3-2 Democratic. Chair Julia Olson-Boseman, a Democrat, has voted alongside a Republican voting block on major issues over the past year, meaning the partisan makeup has effectively been 3-2 Republican.

New members, same makeup

After all precincts had reported, Barfield said he was grateful to have been elected to a fourth term.

“Look at how close it was: 500 votes between second and third, 500 votes between third and fourth,” he said. “So it lets you know people were honed in on this particular race for sure. I’m just thankful to have another four-year term to serve and looking forward to working with the new people that were elected.”

Barfield specifically mentioned Hays, who served as president of the Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors in 2006, one year before Barfield occupied the same role.

Late Tuesday, Barfield said he already had picked up nine of his large campaign signs and was heading out the door to pick up four more. Rounding up campaign signs has become an election-night tradition for the 12-year commissioner.

“It’s my routine,” he said.

Though Hays is no doubt familiar in civic and real estate circles, this will be her first time winning an elected government role. In 2017 Hays was 80 votes shy of earning a spot on Wilmington City Council behind Clifford Barnett; in 2015 she fell just 89 votes behind former councilman Paul Lawler in the same race.

Late Tuesday, Hays said she attributes her victory to the campaign’s volunteers.

“Beyond grateful to the Citizens of New Hanover County for their confidence in me,” Hays wrote in an email. “Look forward to collaborating with my fellow Commissioners. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work!”

Hays previously served as chair of the City of Wilmington Planning Commission for eight years. Both she and Barfield were unaware benefactors to a tranche of campaign funding from a political committee affiliated with N.C. Realtors.

Rivenbark — the frontrunner and brother of current Wilmington City Councilman Charlie Rivenbark — will leave his role as an elected New Hanover County Board of Education member halfway through his four-year term to serve on the commission. The board of education will have to appoint his replacement.

Democratic candidates Leslie Cohen and Kyle Horton earned the fifth- and sixth-most votes, respectively. Both had previously run for state office.

Canvass, still counting absentee

Tuesday night’s results do not include the totality of mail-in ballots, which county boards can accept via mail through Nov. 12 so long as ballots were postmarked by 5 p.m. Tuesday, per a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

New Hanover County Board of Elections will conduct its canvass next week and will finalize results after all absentee ballots have been accepted and tabulated.

In N.C. candidates may request a recount in county elections if the difference between the votes for the candidate and the prevailing candidate is less than 1% of the total votes cast between the two candidates. In Watkins’ case, the vote difference with Barfield is 0.4%. It’s unclear at this point whether Watkins will request a recount.

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