July 30, 2008 12:00

Forsyth Democrats hope to flip commission

Democrats in Forsyth County look to the general election in November hopeful that they’ll be able to overturn the Republicans’ bare majority on the county’s seven-member governing board, this following strong fundraising in the second quarter and upheaval in their rival camp with one Republican incumbent knocked out in the primary and another slow to raise money for the general election.

Dave Plyler, a former county commissioner from Kernersville with a background in television broadcasting, eliminated incumbent Bill Whiteheart of Lewisville in a primary contest that was expensive for both Republicans.

Whiteheart spent about $25,000 attempting to defend his seat, while Plyler spent about $8,000 less and kept the remainder going into the general election.

The challenger spent $7,029 with Paragon Advertising of Pfafftown for radio and television advertising and $4,446 with the Winston-Salem Journal for newspaper advertising before the primary.

With the dust settled after the primary, Plyler, along with Republican incumbents Richard Linville — who reported no fundraising in the first two quarters — and Gloria Whisenhunt, is left to battle three Democrats and a lone Libertarian for three seats in Forsyth’s rural District B. Of the three Democrats, Nancy Young of Winston-Salem is the best funded to contend for a seat, reporting $5,423 in cash on hand after raising $3,878 in the past three months. Formerly a reporter and publicist for Sara Lee Branded Apparel, Young currently does consulting work for nonprofits.

“We feel confident we’re going to get at least one in there,” said Mary Dickinson, first vice chair of the county Democratic Party. “We’d like to elect all three. They’re running as a block. They may devise a common theme. And they appear together frequently.”

Young’s two fellow Democrats boast contacts, political savvy and organizational acumen. Retired dentist Dr. James Ziglar of Rural Hall served on the commission from 1976 to 1988. The majority of the nearly $10,000 raised by his campaign comes from a loan to himself. Among his expenditures over the past three months were $3,656 paid to Star City Studios of Winston-Salem for video production work, $2,519 to the US Postal Service and $1,048 to Jon McNeil of Winston-Salem for database analysis, mass mailings and research. The Democrats avoided spending money on the primary campaign by running only three candidates.

In contrast to Ziglar, John C. Gladman, also of Rural Hall, has spent little money so far. Employed as assistant director of social services for the county, Gladman has amassed almost $3,000 through dozens of small contributions averaging $67 from a diverse donor base consisting of analysts, educators and sales associates.

Whisenhunt, a small business owner from Winston-Salem who currently chairs the commission, goes into the campaign with the third-largest war chest of the six candidates. As of June 30, she reported having $4,820 in cash on hand after raising $3,937. The largest portion of her campaign financing comes from a $3,000 loan from her husband, real estate investor Curtis E. Whisenhunt. The Whisenhunt campaign has landed $1,000 checks from Winston-Salem developer Grover Shugart Jr., the NC Realtors PAC in Greensboro and the NC Association of Educators PAC in Raleigh.

The Libertarian candidate, Richard N. Norman, a Winston-Salem computer consultant who has never run for political

office, filed a certification of threshold with the Forsyth County Board of Elections committing to raise and spend no more than $3,000.

Democrats likely to retain control in Guilford
In Guilford County, the Democrats’ seven-to-four majority on the 11-member commission virtually ensures that the party will fend off a takeover bid by the Republicans, especially in a presidential election year in which the coattails of likely Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama are expected to distribute gains to candidates down the ticket.

Republicans would have to win three seats — that is, every one of their contests — to wrest control from the Democrats.

Three other contests are already decided: Skip Alston, a Democrat, along with Billy Yow and Mike Winstead — both Republicans — face no opposition in the general election.

Commission Chairman Kirk Perkins, the Democratic incumbent who represents District 4 in the county’s northeastern quadrant, faces a modest challenge from Republican Eddie Souther, who like his opponent lives in the McLeansville area. A salesman at Stock Building Supply in Greensboro, Souther has reported $901 in receipts, mostly from his own contributions.

Completing his first term as commissioner, Perkins, a real-estate appraiser, enters the ring well girded, having $7,413 in cash on hand after spending only $207. Perkins’ contributions come from relatively large donations: $2,000 from accountant Linda Cagle of the Stoney Creek subdivision near Sedalia; $1,000 from Arnold Cagle, also of Stoney Creek, who is employed with Ameriprise Financial; $1,000 from Catherine Cagle of Burlington, also employed with Ameriprise Financial; and $1,000 from the North Carolinians for Leadership in Government PAC, a political action committee set up by Greensboro developer Roy Carroll.

The commission’s two at-large seats are also up for grabs, but Democratic incumbents John Parks and Paul Gibson present a virtually impregnable defense to the two candidates who survived the Republican primary and to the lone Libertarian joins the fray. Democrat John Parks served on the commission from 1992 to 2000, and was reseated in 2006 following a contested election in which he ultimately prevailed over Republican Trudy Wade, who subsequently won a seat on the Greensboro City Council. A Jamestown resident and commercial real estate broker, Parks benefited from a March fundraiser hosted by SunTrust bank executive Spence Broadhurst, the former mayor of Wilmington.

Fattened with contributions from representatives of the real estate, law and sales sectors, Parks’ reported balance at the end of June of more than $20,000 is more than double that of his nearest competitor. Over the past six months, Parks has amassed a total of $2,328 from Replacements Limited, a company whose political action committee endorses candidates perceived as friendly towards gay and lesbian interests.

The other at-large commissioner, Paul Gibson, is a popular Democrat with ample name recognition, having served two terms and sharing a name with his father, who was formerly the county sheriff. A textile and apparel sales professional, Gibson enjoys strong support from the real estate and law sectors, but has cultivated a diverse and deep donor base, with contribution amounts averaging $147. Having raised $11,769, he still has a reported $9,764 in cash on hand. Like Perkins, Gibson is the recipient of a $1,000 check from Carroll’s PAC. Only one of the Republicans in the race has undertaken significant fundraising.

Larry Proctor, who chairs the Guilford County Planning Board and who co owns Sedgefield Lawn & Garden and Sedgefield Outdoor Equipment, has raised a total of $21,130. Almost three quarters of that amount came from a personal loan from the candidate to himself. Proctor blew through $17,752 during his primary campaign, leaving him with $3,378. Among the campaign’s major expenditures was $11,888 paid to Compulis of Greensboro for direct-mail advertising.

The second Republican candidate, Wendell Sawyer, has reported no fundraising efforts. A one-time state senator and well-known lawyer in Greensboro, Sawyer has long placed a trust in residual name recognition as a substitute for campaigning and advertising. Libertarian candidate Paul Elledge has likewise reported no campaign fundraising.

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.


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