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Hertford winners: Voters sought transparency, integrity

110719herfordelection

Councilor-elect Ashley Hodges, who won one of two seats on Hertford Town Council in Tuesday's election, discusses his campaign outside the East Hertford precinct at the Perquimans County Courthouse, Tuesday.

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By Reggie Ponder, Miles Layton and Paul Nielsen
Staff Writers

Thursday, November 7, 2019

HERTFORD — The winners of Tuesday's mayoral and council races in Hertford say voters sent a clear message for change: Stop disrespecting citizens, provide more transparency and integrity in local government, and pursue more progress for their town.

Mayor-elect Earnell Brown and Councilors-elect Jerry Mimlitsch and Robert "Ashley" Hodges all said Wednesday they hope to start delivering that change after being sworn in next month.

Winfall Mayor Fred Yates, meanwhile, announced that the new four-year term he won on Tuesday will be his last.

Yates, who defeated challenger Preston White with 55.3 percent of the vote, said his reelection shows Winfall citizens wanted him to continue his service as mayor, a job he's held since 1993.

“The people spoke,” he said.

In Hertford, where Mayor Horace Reid did not seek re-election, there was going to be a change at town hall no matter who won the mayor's race on Tuesday.

Brown, who made history on Tuesday by becoming the first woman to win a mayor's race in Hertford, believes she was victorious because of her message.

“I think the reason I won is because of my slogan (Unity in the Hertford community), my narrative and how my belief was sincerely presented to the citizens of Hertford: Unity — we can do this together,” she said.

Brown, who defeated Quentin Jackson, a sitting member of Town Council, by garnering more than 60 percent of the vote, said Tuesday's results show citizens embraced change, including in how their government conducts business.

“I believe the citizens of Hertford want their town to move forward with integrity, transparency and with truth for every citizen," she said. "I think that's why the citizens wanted change.”

Brown is optimistic that the new council seated next month that includes herself, Mimlitsch, Hodges, Jackson and Councilman Frank Norman will "communicate better as we move forward with professionalism and a willingness to make the town a better place."

Jackson, who lost his bid for mayor but will remain on council, couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

Mimlitsch, who won his first bid for office, garnering 30.8 percent of the vote, said he believes going door to door made a difference in the outcome.

“I knocked on every door in Hertford,” Mimlitsch said. “I thought it was important to do that because in Hertford you represent everybody. It's not like in Elizabeth City where you represent a particular ward. I wanted to show that. I wanted people to know that I was not just representing the people on my street but that I would represent everybody and listen to everybody.”

Tuesday's election result shows that voters were unhappy with the disrespect they were seeing from some town officials, Mimlitsch said.

“I think it made clear that people were tired of what was going on,” he said.

Mimlitsch said he believes the election of new officials will make a difference in how the town government operates, making it more transparent and more responsive to citizen concerns.

He said he has encouraged people to ask questions and voice their opinions, and he believes voters appreciated that. He says he and other town officials plan to continue encouraging residents to speak up by holding meetings in every neighborhood in Hertford. The goal, he said, is to have more transparency in town government and to make progress on important goals such as providing recreational opportunities for youth.

Hodges, who garnered 27.5 percent of the vote to win the other council seat in Tuesday's election, said he believes the effort he put into reaching out to voters paid off.

“I know that I canvassed pretty hard,” Hodges said. “I tried to knock on doors and talk to as many people as possible. I talked about employment opportunities and moving more into the modern age. I offered practical solutions to improve the town and I believe that resonated with people. They appreciated someone having concrete ideas.”

Hodges said not only the election result but also voter turnout sent a message that voters were ready for transparency and progress.

“Voter turnout sends a loud and clear message that folks in town are ready for a change,” Hodges said. “They're ready for things to improve and they're tired of business as usual.”

Hodges said he believes the message that voters sent will make a difference in how town government operates in Hertford, resulting in a new level of transparency and commitment to finding practical solutions for the town.

“When you have that much civic engagement — this turnout was three times the national average for a municipal election in an off-cycle year — that underscores that people expect progress and transparency, and if they aren't seeing it the people of Hertford are going to go to the polls to get it,” Hodges said.

According to unofficial totals, more than 55 percent of registered voters in Hertford cast ballots in Tuesday's election.

Gracie Felton, an appointed member of the council who lost her bid for election to a four-year term on Tuesday, couldn't be reached for comment on Wednesday. She finished with 21.9 percent of the vote.

Orlean Jones, who finished fourth in the council race, garnering 19.6 percent of the vote, also couldn't be reached Wednesday.

In Winfall, Yates said he has several goals he'd like to accomplish in his last term. One is attracting a convenience store to the town, he said.

“And I would like to add some things recreational for the children because we're getting some children in Winfall that we didn't used to have,” Yates said.

He'd also like to see the town put in new playground equipment and a basketball court.

White, who gave up his council seat to run for mayor, only lost to Yates by 24 votes. He actually got more votes on election day than Yates — 63 to 37 — but lost the one-stop vote by a margin of 77 to 27.

White, who said before the election that he had been asked to challenge Yates, said voter turnout apparently didn't prove to be what he thought it would be.

"I guess a lot of people that were supposed to get registered didn't get registered," he said. "A lot of people that were supposed to come out and vote didn't come out and vote. I guess they took it for granted that they would be free that day and they found out that they had some issues or complications where they couldn't come out and vote."

According to unofficial results, turnout for Winfall's election was more than 52 percent.

Asked if he plans to seek public office again, White responded, "probably so."

"I love working for the community and I love where I live at," he said. "I believe in supporting my people and if the opportunity presents itself in the future I would probably run again."

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