In the Blue Room

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brian_clareyby Brian Clarey

You know the election was a dog when they kick the results over to the Blue Room of the old Guilford County Courthouse.

And that’s where we sat on Tuesday night: a handful of journos, a small flock of well-wishers, some — but not all — of the candidates on the slate and three sitting councilmembers not on the primary ballot that night but ready to lend support to the incumbency, all in a space as big as a three-car garage.

Just 7,000 people came out last week to vote in a single citywide contest for mayor and a historically significant race in District 3 — more on that later. Just below 4 percent of the electorate showed up, not even enough to fill NewBridge Bank Park, the lowest anyone in the room could remember, even for a primary this small and with the winners so clear.

Some might call this primary a waste of taxpayer money. But democracy is never free, I suppose, and we needed to figure out who would come in second place.

Michael Picarelli, former head of the Guilford County GOP, had his chances to face Justin Outing in the general election aggravated by a campaign from Conservatives for Guilford County backing Kurt Collins, who took the slot by 150 votes. In a low-turnout election like this one, every vote counts.

I didn’t see Devin King getting quite as many votes as he did in the mayor’s race: more than 500 people to challenger Sal Leone’s 362. Vaughan got more than 6,000, about 88 percent of the vote. King will have to raise funds at a breakneck pace to make a dent in that.

But the backstory in District 3 was more compelling. Justin Outling got the seat when his predecessor, Zack Matheny left to head Downtown Greensboro Inc. Outling became the first African-American ever to represent a district not specifically cut for minority representation — at least that’s what legendary Greensboro elections-watcher Bill Burckley, Rhino Times Editor John Hammer and I figured. The closest thing, Burckley said, was when Henry Frye was elected to the NC House in 1968 to become the only black legislator in the state.

Outling’s got a legal background, too: a law degree from Duke and a job as an associate at the city’s white-shoe firm. He strode into the Blue Room after the returns had come in, wearing a disheveled but nonetheless fancy suit. It was Burckley’s first time meeting the candidate; he eyed him the way a big-league scout does a teenager with a 100 mph fastball.

Burckley reminded me that Outling voted with District 5 Councilman Tony Wilkins — “the most conservative member of council” — on big issues of minimum wage and museum loans. He can work with that.