WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - With nine Republican candidates seeking office and only three open seats, the New Hanover County Commission race had one of its largest field in recent history.
Currently-serving commissioners in the party, Woody White and Vice-Chair Pat Kusek, announced they would not be seeking another term in office, opening at least two seats as Democratic colleague Jonathan Barfield also seeks re-election.
With all precincts reporting, former County Commissioner Skip Watkins came out on top of the pack with 8,422 votes, or 17.6% of the vote. Watkins, who lost a 2018 re-election bid in a race where Democrats swept the county commission seats, said name recognition and a record of fiscal responsibility helped him win voters this time.
New Hanover County School Board Member Bill Rivenbark came in second, with 7,222 votes, or 15.09% of the vote. Rivenbark did not attend a Republican watch party where many candidates watched the election results come in, and WECT was unable to reach him before or after the results came in for comment.
In a tight race for third, Deb Hays garnered 6,744 votes, or 14.09% of the votes cast. The real estate broker and former Chairwoman of the Wilmington Planning Board said she got a warm reception from voters at the polls on Tuesday. She said she has always made a point to return calls and emails from anyone who sends them, helping distinguish her as a person and not a politician in the minds of voters.
Exactly 200 votes behind Hays was political newcomer Matt Rhodes. He is a health and wellness instructor and a firearms trainer, and one of the only Republican candidates to unequivocally say he would not support the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
With the ongoing exploration of potential new ownership of county-owned New Hanover Regional Medical Center, the uncertain future of WAVE Transit and the concerns over the sex-scandal consuming New Hanover County Schools, commission candidates have had no shortage of topics to debate and discuss.
Once the vote totals are made official, the top three candidates in Tuesday’s primary will face the same number of Democrats in the general election this November.
In addition to the candidates above, Frank Meares, Ricky Meeks, John Lyon, Harry Knight and Joe Irrera competed on the Republican ticket.