Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Candidate joins Brunswick commissioner race as unaffiliated contender after successful petition

(Courtesy Lon Anderson)

[Ed. note: This article was updated after press to include an interview with Bob Fulton]

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Republican incumbent Pat Sykes will face a competitor for the district three position of the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners after gaining over 5,600 signatures in support of his candidacy.

READ MORE: Primary Election 2024: Check in for results

Republicans Sykes and Jwantana Garner Fink were the only candidates for the district three commissioner primary election; incumbent Sykes won with 78.5% of the vote.

Bob Fulton is a registered Democrat who signed up for the election after the Dec. 15 filing deadline. Brunswick Board of Elections director Sara LeVere told Port City Daily Fulton reached out to the BOE expressing his interest in campaigning in January.

LeVere noted state law allows unaffiliated candidates to participate in county elections if they submit a signature with 4% of registered voters — 5,222 in Brunswick — by noon on March 5, the date of the primary election. 

The Brunswick County Democratic Party (BCDP) worked with Fulton to gain over verified 5600 signatures by the primary, allowing his entry.

“I’ll tell you what, getting 5,600 signatures in Brunswick County is really something,” BCDP spokesperson Lon Anderson told Port City Daily. “You know, it’s really a lot of door-knocking, working shopping centers and stuff like that, where you get one, two, three at a time.”

LeVere said no Democratic candidate filed for the district three commissioner position, but the BCDP Chair Shelley Allen praised his candidacy as a “great day for Democrats” and an “even greater day for Brunswick County.”

“Now that Bob will appear as an unaffiliated candidate on the ballot, voters can choose this November whether to replace an incumbent embraced by developers with an innovator who will protect our county from over-development,” Allen said in a press release Friday.

The candidate Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

PCD: You’re registered as a Democrat, but are running as an unaffiliated candidate. How would you describe your position on the political spectrum?

Bob Fulton (BF): I grew up Republican. And when I got out of the service and started working, doing different things, slowly I just saw the Republican party moving away from my standard views and principles. A lot of political actions that just threw the far left and the far right at odds with each other. So I just don’t see myself in either of those camps.

And unfortunately, I think there’s probably a third of people in the United States right now that probably see themselves as independent. Those forces that drove the political parties to be so antagonistic have caused a lot of people to just sort of back out.

So I consider my views as centrist. Middle of the road.

PCD: What’s the reason you wanted to run for a commissioner seat?

BF: I’m trying to protect our environment and our people. I mean, we have to look after each other. What’s happening is, over-development is driving us to this business-enabled environment where everything that’s producing takes precedence over anything else. And we’re ruining our landscape, we’re destroying our trees. It’s causing more flooding, which impacts our infrastructure.

And while politicians are trying to say “we’re keeping your taxes low,” we’re growing at such a rate here that our public service resources can’t keep up. So that’s what’s driven me to say we’ve got to slow this down. We’ve got to control it. Development is going to happen. Business has got to flourish. But it can’t flourish and allow the profit of businessmen to devastate our lower income people or retirees or single-parent families; they’re the ones that are going to be hurt the most.

So that’s what’s driving me. We have to balance things. We have to manage things better. And, unfortunately, our sitting commissioners — which is the position I’m running for — it doesn’t appear that they see that as a major focus. Their major focus is to let business be as profitable as possible.

PCD: What makes you think that is their major focus?

BF: If you look at their campaign contributors, it sort of tells you. And I’d say the same of the people in Raleigh.

Another focus I think our county commissioners have to lobby against is legislation that prevents municipalities and counties from enacting ordinances that protect themselves. We can’t put in tree ordinances, we can’t protect our heritage trees unless we get a variance from Raleigh. Why is that?

It’s because developers don’t want any constraints. That’s my viewpoint. And it may be narrow-focused. But that’s what I’m seeing and hearing when I go to planning board and commissioner meetings. People are showing up in droves, the rooms are packed. And I hear the people’s cries, and the commissioners and the planning board just sit there and stare at them.

PCD: Are there specific examples of development in Brunswick County that highlight this issue for you?

BF: There was one that just passed. Ashton Farms down around Ash, North Carolina, came in and it seems like there’s 2,600 units they want to put in. And the outcry from people in that part of the county, standing up and talking about the traffic problems that are going to come about. The traffic constraints have not been taken into consideration.

Also, the wetlands have to be protected. If you start impacting these areas in the coastal areas, you’re ruining fisheries, you’re polluting waters, you’re going to kill the wildlife that’s here. 

We need to update our ordinances within the county to agree with our plans for growth. Because county commissioners put together a beautiful blueprint, Brunswick 2040, that says we want to protect our greenspace, we want to protect our trees, we want to prevent stormwater erosion. Those are all great words. But there’s been no action. Without any kind of enforcement, they’re just words on paper.

PCD: How would you address water quality and PFAS issues?

BF: If you’ve got a company that has active lawsuits, a company that has been dumping chemicals into our waterways — that has to be addressed. It’s not something that a county commissioner on their own is going to be able to do, except to ask the right questions. And to make sure that the legislature, and the state judicial department is doing their job.

PCD: What is your position on toll proposals for the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge?

BF: I do not support a toll for the bridge. Mainly, because we turn our back on these underprivileged people. There’s been times in my life where I had to work two full time jobs at the same time when I had two children in college. And that was my choice, and their choice to go to college, but because of the situation I worked 18 hours a day. 

I could do that, but there’s a lot of people that can’t. There’s a lot of people that work a second job just to pay rent. People drive from Brunswick County over to Wilmington to work in the hospitals, to work in the fire stations, and vice versa. And you’re going to charge them to use a public road? That makes me irate.

PCD: What’s the reason you filed past the deadline?

BF: I retired two-and-a-half years ago from the Federal Aviation Administration. When I retired, I went on to the board of directors for the Harbor Creek Homeowners Association and the board of trustees for our local methodist church. Those things kept me busy.

I’m finishing both of those this year, and this came up. The leader of the local Democratic Party asked me if I would run as a candidate. And I said, “Let me do a little research. Let me find out a little more about what’s going on.” 

I have a marine biology background and I was interested in the water and sanitary sewer department. And she said, “OK.” She had someone else who was interested in running for county commissioner. I said, great that gives me a couple of years to do some research and find out if I bring something to the table.

Well, the young lady that was going to run had to withdraw. The chair of our local Democratic Party called me and said: “Bob, we have a situation. We don’t have a candidate and we’re trying to put candidates up. We think it makes for a better race if there aren’t just uncontested Republicans running for office.” 

Because there are more people that are stepping up and becoming activists as Democrats and there’s an awful lot of independent voters out there who tend to side with our values and issues. And I said, “Ok, I’ll step up.”

Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at

Want to read more from PCD? Subscribe now and then sign up for our morning newsletter, Wilmington Wire, and get the headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.

Related Articles