Democrats retain control of Mecklenburg commission

Democrats retain control of Mecklenburg commission


by April Bethea / Charlotte Observer

April Bethea / Charlotte Observer

Posted on November 3, 2010 at 7:28 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Democrats kept their majority on the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners, with incumbents Jennifer Roberts and Harold Cogdell among the top three finishers in the at-large race on Tuesday.

With all 195 Mecklenburg precincts reporting, Democrat Jennifer Roberts was first with 112,556 votes, Republican Jim Pendergraph was second with 111,622, and Democrat Harold Cogdell, Jr. was third with 106,596.

Pendergraph, formerly a Democrat, served as the county's sheriff for 13 years.

Should the wins of Roberts and Cogdell hold, Democrats would now hold five seats on the nine-member county board. That's just slightly more narrow that the party's current majority.

"I think that is an amazing performance," said Roberts. "When you think about the national mood, how upset people are about having to trim budgets and just upset with incumbents in general, I think we showed that by actually getting out in front of voters and talking to them ... that local personal touch made the difference."

The three leaders were trailed by Republicans Dan Ramirez and Corey Thompson, incumbent Democrat Dan Murrey and Libertarian Jack Stratton.

The outcome of the at-large race -- and the fate of which party would be in the majority -- wasn't settled until late Tuesday.

Early results showed Republicans Pendergraph and Dan Ramirez taking two of the seats, and shifting power to the GOP for the first time since 2002.

But as the final precincts came in, Cogdell overtook Ramirez for third place in the at-large race.

Democrats have been in the majority on the nine-member county board for much of the past two decades, winning six seats in 2008.

But all of the party's incumbents faced Republican challengers this year.

The new board, which will take office in December, probably will confront many of the same financial challenges as current commissioners. But the new panel will have to deal with residents still reeling from cuts to schools, libraries and parks.

And they'll have to contend with homeowners worried about higher tax bills as the county resets property values for the first time since 2003.

Republicans campaigned on promises to cut spending further to try to lessen the blow of the revaluation.

But Democrats said that while they would continue to look for efficiencies, they were hesitant to commit to some of their opponents pledges to cut taxes.

Former commissioners Tom Cox, a Republican, and Parks Helms, a Democrat, said spending will continue to be a big issue for the new board.

Cox said state lawmakers, in trying to balance their budget, may push additional costs onto the counties. So crafting a "revenue-neutral" budget could require more local cuts.

"I don't know whether a Democrat or Republican majority can stand that heat. At some point in time, you can't cut anymore," said Cox, a commissioner from 1998 to 2004. "And my guess is they're getting pretty close to that right now."

Incumbents lead in district races

Tuesday's ballot also included three contested district races. But incumbents Dumont Clarke, George Dunlap and Vilma Leake enjoyed comfortable leads over their GOP competitors in the early returns.

In District 2, Leake was at 71percent of the vote, compared with about 29 percent for Lee Ann Patton.

Dunlap was leading in the District 3 race with 81percent to 19percent for Barbara Eveland.

In District 4, Clarke was ahead with about 65percent of votes, compared with 35percent for Virginia Spykerman.

The three Republicans on the board - Karen Bentley of District 1, Neil Cooksey of District 5 and Bill James of District 6 - did not have opponents this year.