Conservative and GOP candidates slump in Fayetteville election

A string of Conservative and Republican candidates for city council fizzled at the polls on Tuesday as Fayetteville voters appeared to resist a pull to the right.

Most important: District 4 Councilor DJ Haire, the current senior council member, posted the biggest margin of victory of the night, beating Thomas C. Greene, a member of the far-right Proud Boys, by a percentage from 83.24% to 16.01%, in the unofficial results.

In other races as well, the Conservative candidates lost to the incumbents. Mayor Mitch Colvin beat Freddie de la Cruz, and in District 1, Pro Tem Mayor Kathy Keefe Jensen beat Alex Rodriguez, who had strongly criticized her during the campaign trail.

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City council races are officially non-partisan, and the issues council members deal with revolve around neighborhoods and day-to-day municipal concerns. The body rarely breaks down along party lines – a refreshing departure from state and national politics.

However, council seats are traditionally held by an overwhelming majority of Democrats in a county where that party has a big advantage in terms of the number of registered voters.

What happened?

There were signs that Republicans might reduce that advantage this year. Registered Republican challengers competing on Tuesday included de la Cruz; Rodríguez; Greene; Fred G. LaChance in District 5; Peter Pappas in District 6; and Michael Pinkston in District 8. But the incumbent council members took their seats in all cases and Derrick Thompson, a registered Democrat, won the open seat in District 6.

Several of the candidates had expressed their displeasure with Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins, criticizing her over vacancies in the police department and the department’s handling of protests against George Floyd in May 2020. which turned into riots and looting. Some of the candidates listed removing Hawkins as their first order of business if elected.

Several challengers for the Fayetteville City Council seats had listed the replacement of Police Chief Gina Hawkins as their first round.  All were defeated

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During the campaign, the police department released figures showing it had filled most of its vacancies. Then, earlier this month, Hawkins announced his intention to retire in January.

It’s unclear whether these revelations sucked the air out of some campaigns.

Another factor could be the odd timing of the election, which was postponed from November 2021 due to a delay in the city receiving updated US census data.

The summer race attracted just 11% of registered voters in unofficial results – just below the already low turnouts in municipal elections.

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In this environment, name recognition and familiarity can go a long way.

That didn’t stop, however, other challengers from pulling off upsets. Mario Benavente, a Democrat, edged out unaffiliated Antonio B. Jones in District 3 by a slim 6 votes, Brenda McNair beat fellow Democrat Larry Wright in District 7; and unaffiliated Deno Hondros defeated Democrat Yvonne Kinston in District 9.

So far, Johnny Dawkins in District 5 started Tuesday night and ended Tuesday night as the council’s only registered Republican.

On Wednesday, he was candid in saying he didn’t think the Tory challengers had much luck.

“The mayoral race was pretty much over when it started,” he said.

He also gave Greene no chance in District 4 against Haire.

Councilman Johnny Dawkins during a Fayetteville City Council meeting on Monday, April 25, 2022.

Speaking generally about running for council, he said: ‘You just can’t one day decide, ‘I’m just going to be a councilor’ and then think you can win. You can not. It requires a lot of work, a lot of preparation and it requires a team. And usually it takes a year or two, or three, to win.

Dawkins said he was pleasantly surprised by Hondros’ winning campaign.

“But keep in mind he raised a lot of money,” he said.

Dawkins said Fayetteville’s municipal elections are expensive and getting more so; his campaign raised $60,000 and spent $50,000, he said.

A silver lining

For now, Nat Robertson remains one of the county’s Republican Party’s biggest token victories in the mayoral election, having served two terms as mayor before losing to Colvin.

Despite Tuesday’s election results, there is a silver lining for conservative and Republican candidates. For one thing, because municipal races are nonpartisan, the top two voters moved from the primary to Tuesday’s general election. Six registered Republican candidates making it to the general election could be a sign that breakthroughs are afoot.

Second: In District 5, LaChance was easily defeated by another Republican, Dawkins. That suggests Tuesday’s outgoing wins may be more about voters picking a familiar face in a low-turnout election than anything to do with party affiliation.

“I think party labels don’t matter as much. I think demographics are important,” Dawkins said. “I think people, they want to know their candidates.”

He said candidates shouldn’t think they’ll “campaign together” and win.

“We are not a city of 20,000 people. We are a city of over 200,000 people. So it’s big politics.

Myron B. Pitts can be reached at [email protected] or 910-486-3559.

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