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Brooks files, is only challenger for council seats

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, July 18, 2019

With only a day and a half to go before the end of the filing period for this fall’s municipal election in Elizabeth City, only one challenger has emerged for the eight city council seats and the mayor’s job.

Michael Brooks, a former five-term city councilor in the city’s Third Ward, filed for one of the ward’s two open seats on Wednesday.

He joins the ward’s two incumbent councilors, Rickey King and Kem Spence, who have already filed for re-election.

No other incumbents seeking re-election in the city’s October election have drawn challengers. The last day to file for the city’s October election is Friday at noon.

In an interview prior to filing, Brooks said his entry into the race is partly a response to a Daily Advance article published in Wednesday’s edition about councilors’ absences over the last 12 months. That article noted Spence has missed more than a third of council meetings over that time. Spence said his absences were due to a work conflict he’s now corrected.

King also tied with Second Ward Councilor Gabriel Adkins for the second-most absences over that time. Both had nine each.

While not calling Spence by name, Brooks said he feels someone can’t represent constituents effectively if they miss a third of council meetings. He also described the absences as a sign that Spence was too busy to serve, not that he didn’t care about constituents.

Asked his view of the council over the last two years, Brooks — a preacher and Army veteran who stepped down from council in 2017 — said he was concerned about the city’s Tourism Development Authority delivering what he referred to as a “bad blow” to Elizabeth City State University by cutting funding support for the university’s homecoming celebration. The council appoints some members to the Tourism Development Authority board, but doesn’t get to vote on its budget.

The Tourism Development Authority board approved reducing annual earmarks to a number of community nonprofits by half, dropping ECSU’s to $9,000, on the rationale that money would be better spent on regional marketing.

Brooks disagreed, and said he takes issue with comparing the economic impact of ECSU to Arts of the Albemarle, an organization that accepted its reduced earmark. ECSU stands above in putting “heads in beds,” Brooks said.

Although Brooks said he didn’t plan to seek re-election in 2017, a late write-in campaign resulted him placing third in a four-candidate race for two seats.

Other recent candidates for city council and mayor were asked their plans on Wednesday.

Sam Davis III, who’s run unsuccessfully for mayor, declined to share his plans on Wednesday. He said if he plans to run for office, he wouldn’t tell the media prematurely.

Davis ran in 2015 and 2017, losing narrowly in 2015 to incumbent Joe Peel, but losing in 2017 to Parker 67.4 to 32.3 percent.

Alice Redding, who ran in 2015 and 2017 for a First Ward seat, said she’s not running this year. She said First Ward Councilors Jeannie Young and Billy Caudle are doing a “great job,” and she is happy to support them.

Redding also commented that, were she a resident of other wards, she might have run, citing some councilors’ high absences.

Local attorney Jason Gillis has run unsuccessfully in the last two council races in the Fourth Ward, losing both times.

“I’m staying out of it,” Gillis said when asked about this year’s council race.

Even with Brooks’ entry into the Third Ward race, this year’s election is still unusually uncontested. Sometimes the two seats in a council ward go uncontested — that last happened in the First Ward in 2013 — but it’s rare that the seats in three wards — a total of six seats —would.

It’s also very rare in the city’s history that a mayor goes without a challenger. Mayor Rick Gardner went without opposition in 1995, and Mayor John Bell went three terms, from 1973 through 1977, without a challenger.

Had no challengers emerged in any contest this year, that would have been unprecedented, at least in the city’s modern history. City staff knew of no city elections that were completely uncontested, and voting abstracts dating back to 1969, the earliest year the Pasquotank Board of Elections has on record, showed at least some contests every year.