Sunday, March 26, 2023

NHC chair Olson-Boseman eliminated from commissioners’ race, Zapple to defend seat against 3 hopefuls

Julia Olson-Boseman will not have the opportunity to serve a second term after she failed to advance past the primaries. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — New Hanover County’s top elected leader Julia Olson-Boseman will not see a second term after finishing at the bottom of the Democratic primaries.

The controversial chairwoman earned just 5,579 votes, about 22.55% of ballots cast in her favor. Her results represent a fall from her 2018 success when Olson-Boseman was the highest vote-getter in the primaries. She was above Rob Zapple, a first-term incumbent at the time, by 679 votes.

READ MORE: Results across the tri-county region

Olson-Boseman faced stiff criticism in the months leading up to the election after several financial scandals. During early voting, targeted campaign signs were erected along roadways in an attempt to get her out of office by calling out her ethics and history.

This year the North Carolina State Bar accused Olson-Boseman of mismanaging funds, and the State Bureau of Investigation was also probing alleged misconduct for accepting $20,000 from a client and not following through on services before she closed her practice. Most recently, Olson-Boseman was fined thousands by the State Board of Elections for several years of unfiled campaign finance reports, which she later reportedly paid.

Olson-Boseman could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Her colleague, Zapple, will have a shot at another term after garnering 44.93% of the votes. First elected in 2014, Zapple is nearing the end of his second term. He surpassed all candidates across party lines with 11,118 votes. Comparatively, in the 2018 May primary, he tallied 7,215 votes.

Zapple is the only commissioner who is on record responding to Olson Boseman’s accusations after cautioning a constituent against voting for the chairwoman in a public email. Zapple said he was only restating what was shared in the news and hopes the commissioners will work together over the next six months, especially on efforts like the current budget cycle.

“I know that as a commission we — all five of us, including Julia — have a lot of work to do,” he said.

Zapple thanked his supporters and recognized the voter turnout — while still low at 17% — was higher than anticipated. In 2018, the last commissioners’ race without a presidential nomination, 9.86% of voters showed out at the polls. He said he believes voters are paying attention to top-of-mind issues: managing growth, funding education, maintaining infrastructure through the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority partnership, and creating open and green space.

“People are supportive of my stance on these issues here and want to continue to make sure that we keep an eye on all of those issues,” Zapple said.

Also on the November ballot, Zapple will be joined by Travis Robinson, who came in second of the three Democrats with 32% of the votes, a ballot count of 8,048. The last time Robinson ran in 2020, he was dropped from the primaries after he landed in sixth place with 4,685 votes, just 6.11%.

Tom Toby and LeAnn Pierce won the Republican nominations. Voters will choose from two of the four names in the general election, meaning at least one electee will be a newcomer to the board, replacing Olson-Boseman.

Toby, the owner of a local towing company, came out on top in the Republican race with 8,838 votes, or 31.55% of ballots. Toby has served two-plus decades as a firefighter with Wrightsville Beach, New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington but got his start volunteering at the old Myrtle Grove fire station.

“I think the results speak to the fact that the everyday citizen is ready for the everyday citizen to be back in charge of our local government,” Toby said. “They said that very loudly with the way they voted.”

A lifelong resident, Toby said being engraved in the community helped push him past the primary finish line, coupled with the belief current leadership has “ignored and marginalized” constituents.

“There’s a lot of folks here that are just very ready for representatives that will listen to them,” Toby said. “And I will listen. I understand. I interact and I live in this community as well. The stuff that is going on — that keeps getting passed and this and that and the other — it affects me too.”

Close behind Toby, Pierce scored 8,527 votes, 30.44% of ballots cast. She was elected as the first female mayor of Carolina Beach in 2019 and announced toward the end of her two-year term she would not seek re-election to take her shot representing the county as a whole.

Joe Irrera fell short of earning a spot on the November ballot with 6,540 votes, just 23.34% of the turnout in his favor. Harry Knight also failed to advance to the general election as the Republican candidate who garnered the least amount of votes, just 4,111, or 14.67%. Both men also ran in the last commissioners’ race. 

In the 2020 primaries, Irrera earned 5,459 votes, 11.33%, and Knight was still behind with 4,179 supporters, 8.68%.

Reach journalist Alexandria Sands at or @alexsands_

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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at or on Twitter @alexsands_

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