Democrats earn sweep in Winston-Salem

by Keith Barber

Democrats earn sweep in Winston-Salem

Dan Besse (right). (photo by Keith Barber).

The Democratic city council candidates running for Winston-Salem City Council all won their races in Tuesday’s general election. In the closely contested races, Democrats Dan Besse, Wanda Merschel, and Molly Leight all pulled out victories.

Leight, the Democratic incumbent who was running unopposed, withstood an 11 th hour write-in campaign by two candidates — Republican Nathan Jones and Democrat Carolyn Highsmith.

Leight won 58 percent of the vote, and credited her success to the rapid mobilization of her campaign committee in the days leading up to Election Day.

“I had an extraordinary campaign committee and they were released to go work for Dan and Wanda and had to be yanked back to deal with this nonsense,” Leight said.

Leight, Besse, Merschel and the other candidates had to wait until 10:15 p.m. to get the unofficial results from the Forsyth County Board of Elections. Mayor Allen Joines, who was running unopposed, won 91 percent of the vote with write-in candidates winning 9 percent. Derwin Montgomery, a 21-yearold Winston-Salem State University student, won 91 percent of the vote in the East Ward race. Mayor Pro Tem

Vivian Burke defeated Republican challenger Claudia Shivers, winning 70 percent of the vote. DD Adams defeated Republican challenger John Hopkins, seizing 66 percent of the vote.

James Taylor handily defeated Republican challenger Chuck Woolard, winning 69 percent of the vote. And Robert Clark, who ran unopposed in the West Ward, won 96 percent of the vote.

The closest race of the night proved to be in the Northwest Ward. Democratic incumbent Merschel prevailed over Republican challenger Peter Sorensen by winning 53 percent of the vote.

The Southwest Ward race also proved intriguing. Republican challenger Ted Shipley, a 31-year-old attorney, made a strong showing by winning 42 percent of the vote. Besse was considered a heavy favorite in the race early on, but Shipley appeared to close the gap in the weeks leading up to the election.

In his concession speech, Shipley described the experience of running as “humbling” and credited friends, family and supporters with his campaign’s success.

“We found out who cares,” Shipley said. “No one gave us a shot in this and we have shown them losing only by a couple hundred votes. This has been a positive boost for Winston-Salem. And don’t think this is the last time either. This was the first time and you can be sure there will be a next time. This I promise.”

Besse thanked the voters of the Southwest Ward and his campaign volunteers for electing him to a third term.

“This was a very hard fought campaign,” Besse said. “[Shipley] deserves congratulations for his hard efforts. I tried to make the things we expressed in this campaign reflect the values we share.”

Besse said his campaign emphasized neighborhood issues and that’s why he won a third term on the city council. At 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Besse made an appearance at the Little Creek Recreation Center. Besse said the precinct could swing the election. His prediction proved correct. Besse said his phone bank volunteers shifted their focus from the Ardmore area precincts to the Little Creek area in the late afternoon, and the move appeared to pay big dividends. Shipley won the precinct by a mere 27 votes. Besse’s advantage in the Ardmore district precincts proved too large for Shipley to overcome.

Unofficially, voter turnout in Winston-Salem was 9.6 percent, significantly lower than the 11 percent voter turnout mark in the 2005 municipal elections.

Suzanne Reynolds, who unsuccessfully ran for NC Supreme Court last year, said she voted for Wanda Merschel at Reynolds High School because of the city councilwoman’s “excellent leadership.”

“She has been involved in lots of the important work with the mayor and I believe he counts on her for good financial advice,” Reynolds said. “She’s a real good listener; she listens to the needs of the neighborhoods and brings them to the city council.”

Rosa Walker voted for Vivian Burke at Forsyth Tech’s Woodruff campus on Tuesday. Walker said she and Burke are longtime friends that have known each other for more than 50 years, but that’s not why she voted for the 32-year incumbent.

“She’s a hard worker who gets things done,” Walker said. “Just look at her record and it speaks for itself. You can just give Vivian a call and you know something is going happen.”

Walker said she hopes to see unity in the city and she has the confidence and faith in Burke that she will make that happen.

Marie Mingus voted for Ted Shipley at the Miller Park Recreation Center on Tuesday. Mingus said Besse had been very helpful to her homeowners’ association, but his support of the downtown ballpark was the “kicker” that led her to vote for Shipley.

“To vote for that was to me, extraordinarily poor judgment on his part,” Mingus said. “I have no ill will for him as a person but that was just a bad decision and that’s one that’s going to haunt Winston-Salem for years to come.”

Mingus lamented the fact that Joines had no Republican challenger in the election.

“I am absolutely livid that there is no one with the fire in the belly and the money behind them, and that no one in the Republican party was able to put this together,” she said.

Anthony McNeil voted for Derwin Montgomery at the 14th Street Recreation Center on Tuesday. McNeil said he believes Montgomery will be able to bring fresh ideas and perspective to the city council. McNeil said 16-year Democratic incumbent, whom Montgomery defeated in the Sept. 15 primary, had done little for the residents of the East Ward. What was accomplished has been done in baby steps and Montgomery can improve on what she’s done, McNeil said.

Mark Glen voted for Wanda Merschel at Reynolds High School on Tuesday. Glen said he voted for Merschel despite his opposition to the downtown ballpark and his reservations about the $15.5 million incentive package the city offered to Dell.

“I think they do have some egg on their face from their collaboration with private industry, but I think they’re trying to do the right thing,” Glen said.

–Keith T. Barber and David McGee