Sunday, August 7, 2022

Wrightsville Beach mayor defeats challenger, yet again

Mayor Darryl Mills, and two incumbents who ran unopposed for board of aldermen positions, are set for another term at Wrightsville Beach. (Port City Daily/Preston Lennon)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — Voters in one of the state’s wealthiest zip codes, faced with only one competitive election, opted to hold steady with an incumbent mayor rather than side with the anti-establishment candidate. 

Darryl Mills, first elected as mayor in 2019, received 85% of the vote in Wrightsville Beach this election, according to unofficial results. He leads challenger Greg Buscemi 452 to 67. 

Buscemi, an inactive attorney who is currently suing Wrightsville Beach and other localities over parking practices, also ran against Mills in 2019. Buscemi told Port City Daily during the 2021 election season his top priorities if elected included firing the town manager and town attorney. 

Buscemi received 31% of the vote in 2019, and 12.6% in 2021. 

“I’ve run for mayor twice now and both times I never did it with the intention of winning, or even the hope of winning to be honest,” Buscemi said. “It’s really just to, first off, give people a choice, and to give people information that they might not have uncovered otherwise.”

Two incumbents, Hank Miller and Ken Dull, ran unopposed for two positions on the town’s board of aldermen. Miller received 479 votes, Dull received 412 and there were 34 write-ins.

Wrightsville Beach has a conservative-leaning population when it comes to elections, past results show. Beach voters chose Republicans for most all major federal and state races in 2020 — except for picking Gov. Roy Cooper over Dan Forest (51% to 47%). Last year, beach voters also chose three Republicans for the county commissioners race. 

Miller and Mills, accompanied by alderman Jeff DeGroote, posted outside Wrightsville Beach Elementary School for the day to make face-time with voters and talk shop. The relocation of the polls from town hall to the school was a consensus gripe among residents, Miller said, for its newness.

Of the marquee issues locals wanted to discuss with their representatives, beach renourishment was chief among them, Miller said. 

“Sand on the beach is obviously a huge concern,” he said. “If we don’t have sand on Wrightsville Beach, we don’t have Wrightsville Beach.”

Wrightsville Beach’s formula for renourishing its strand was dealt a blow this summer by the federal administration, which announced a revised policy that prohibits the dredging of Masonboro Inlet for its sand. Scheduled initially to start this winter, the once-every-four-years renourishment event will be delayed by at least 12 months because of the policy and other previous funding issues. 

READ MORE: Pleasure Island wins, Wrightsville loses in beach renourishment solution

Miller is a senior vice president at Cape Fear Commercial and also a member of the UNCW Board of Trustees. Dull is the president of McKinley Building Corporation.

Beyond the ongoing beach renourishment drama, infrastructure improvements and maintaining public services are also top priorities, especially as tourism seasons show no signs of dwindling.

“Our shoulder season is all but gone,” Miller said. “It’s 12 months out of the year that we have a pretty steady flow of traffic and an increase of full-time residents. At least that’s how it feels.”

A graduate of the UNC School of Law who maintains his own practice, Mills was first elected to the board of aldermen in 2011. 

“I’ll tell you the main thing that I heard,” Mills said, describing the day’s conversations with voters. “One: They appreciate the job we’re doing and they like the track we’re on. Two: ‘What’s going on with beach nourishment?’”

Another talk-starter is an infrastructure plan afoot involving a pitch to the N.C. Department of Transportation that has already elicited passionate opinions on both sides: A potential project that would remove a few parking spaces on Causeway Drive in favor of a bike lane. 

READ MORE: Wrightsville Beach’s plan for Causeway Drive would remove parking, add bike lanes

On the north end of the island, a recently settled lawsuit with Shell Island gives the town the capability to build parking spots in that region. A plan could be developed over the coming term. 

READ MORE: North end turf war between Wrightsville Beach and Shell Island homeowners association settled

Mills said he will call U.S. Rep. David Rouzer today about a path forward for getting new sand on the beach, and also has heard the will of the people when it comes to the preferred polling location. 

“I’ve just come out of a meeting with the town manager, and one of the things I instructed him to do was to contact the board of elections,” he said. “I would do so as well if necessary — about getting the election back over behind town hall.”

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