by Eric Ginsburg
Incomplete results in reporting due to the implementation of a new statewide voting database system caused massive headaches for candidates, observers and local elections employees during Tuesday night’s primary election. Screens at the Guilford County Courthouse in downtown Greensboro flickered with results that jumped up and down, reporting contradictory results about the number of precincts reporting, and many candidates held off on making assumptions, afraid of jinxing themselves or speaking too soon.
Initial results did show that as expected, US Sen. Kay Hagan sailed past two Democratic challengers. Her real contest awaits in the general election this fall, as Republicans hope to pick up a seat in Congress they consider to be vulnerable. Hagan will face Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis.
Other primary result numbers available appeared to indicate that Guilford County voters repudiated longstanding black political leadership, coming out strongly against challengers Skip Alston and Earl Jones, as well as Jim Kee.
Alston, the former chair of the Guilford County Commission, attempted to unseat longtime incumbent and fellow Democrat state Sen. Gladys Robinson in District 28 but appeared to have lost by double-digit percentages, though official numbers were not available at press time.
Earl Jones, who served in the state General Assembly and co-founded the International Civil Rights Center & Museum with Alston, came up short against Cecil Brockman in District 60, who used to run state Rep. Marcus Brandon’s campaign in the same district. Brandon defeated Jones for the job in 2010.
Kee, a former Greensboro city councilman who lost a reelection bid last fall to 25-year-old Jamal Fox, unsuccessfully tried to unseat Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat who enjoys popularity similar to Robinson’s despite redistricting.
Robinson, a veteran of the seat, held a town-hall meeting at Bennett College last year to address what some students and residents said was excessive use of force by Greensboro police at a Bennett College graduation party.
Alston is well known figure in the city’s political realm, exercising a strong hand in the Simkins PAC. Sometimes controversial, lately in connection to the museum and a deal gone sour with the city over the Renaissance Shopping Center, Alston still wields significant political sway locally. Tuesday’s results suggest it isn’t as much influence as Alston — or his cohorts Jones and Kee — may have thought.
As candidates and supporters watched numbers come in at the courthouse, Harrison seemed upbeat as she chatted with Robinson and offered congratulations to Brockman.
“It will be fun serving with you, assuming the numbers don’t change,” Harrison told Brockman before he took a seat to try and pull up more up-to-date numbers on his phone.
Harrison said that her redrawn district means that many voters aren’t used to seeing her on the ballot, but getting hammered in a primary by a fellow Democrat may have been the bigger adjustment.
“I’ve never really had an opponent attack me from the left before,” Harrison said of Kee. “If he wanted to attack my record with legitimate points that’d be fair, but not to print lies. With his style and his campaign manager… I guess that’s sort of consistent.”
Kee, who is working with campaign consultant Bill Burckely, sent out a mailer on the eve of the election bashing Harrison for numerous alleged anti-business stances without citing sources. In at least some instances, black voters received copies of the mailer with Harrison’s picture while white voters did not. Kee is black and Harrison, who represents District 57, is white.
In an unusual move, the Young Democrats of Guilford County endorsed Harrison and criticized Kee’s negative approach earlier in the campaign.
“He’s using talking points that belong to the Civitas Institute and the John Locke Foundation to try and discredit a Democratic champion we’ve been fortunate to have in Raleigh,” the organization wrote. “That isn’t right for the Democratic Party, and that isn’t right for young Democrats.”
Kee could not be reached for comment.
Several Democrats held watch parties at downtown bars, and Harrison’s supporters flocked to the upstairs of Natty Greene’s. As she grew more comfortable in her lead, Harrison ordered a glass of water at the bar for former Greensboro mayor Carolyn Allen. True to form, Harrison — a staunch environmentalist advocate — asked for no straw to avoid waste.
“I’m hoping that I’ll have a few more Democratic colleagues in the General Assembly,” she said. “I’ll just be happy to be back to fight for the people of Guilford County and the state.”
The mood was more celebratory at Boston’s House of Jazz a few blocks away, where state Rep. Alma Adams’ supporters hailed her as the new congresswoman representing the state’s 12th district. “I’ve Got a Feeling,” the pump-up jam by the Black Eyed Peas, pulsed as a throng of people moved down a complimentary buffet bar.
State Sen. Earline Parmon, a Democrat who represents Forsyth County, congratulated Adams on her success before the Adams campaign drew to the back of the venue for a huddle.
“I’m excited and I’m elated that Rep. Adams is able to represent us in Congress,” Parmon said. “It just proves when you get out and work hard and get your message to the people you can win.”
Parmon said she supported Adams — who defeated state Rep. Marcus Brandon from Guilford County as well as several Charlotte-based candidates — because she served alongside her for over a decade. In that time, Parmon said she learned that Adams is a tenacious and strong voice, particularly due to her work to raise the state’s minimum wage and stance for women’s rights.
Adams’ run for Congress left the state House District 58 seat open, and unofficial results suggested that community organizer Ralph Johnson prevailed in a field of four Democrats, though it is unclear if he obtained enough of a lead to avoid a runoff.
Johnson, who co-chairs Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro, was active in the fight to keep the White Street Landfill closed. He defeated Dan Koenig, Kerry Graves and perennial candidate Tigress McDaniel, who ran and lost a primary race for Greensboro City Council’s District 1 in the fall, based on available numbers.
Guilford County Commissioner Kay Cashion appeared to hold a commanding lead in the at-large race over Kirk Perkins, who formerly served on the board. Cashion smiled at initial results projected at the county courthouse but was hesitant to speak too soon as she tried to find specifics.
“As long as the numbers look like this, I’m feeling great,” Cashion said. “I want to see which precincts are in.”
Numbers available on the state election board’s website didn’t specify which — or even how many — precincts were reporting. Results weren’t updated on the site Tuesday night between 9 p.m. and press time after 11 p.m.
The numbers available showed former Greensboro councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small losing to school board member Carlvena Foster in the Guilford County Commission District 1 race, Lisa Johnson-Tonkins replacing David Churchill as the clerk of superior court, Laura Fjeld defeating Guilford County Commissioner Bruce Davis in the primary for US Congressional District 6 and Danny Rogers walloping Phil Wadsworth and James Zimmerman in the primary for Guilford County sheriff.
Triad City Beat cannot independently confirm the accuracy or completeness of any of the numbers available as of press time Tuesday. Check triad-city-beat.com for updates as they become available.