Showing up to polls in a "steady trickle," as one campaigner put it, one-fifth of Cary's registered voters cast a resounding vote against unchecked development, ousting the incumbent mayor and electing slow-growth advocates to all three council seats up for grabs.
The mayor and two council races were decided Oct. 9. One week later, the first-ever instant runoff election in North Carolina decided the third council race. In that contest, automotive shop owner Don Frantz bested community activist Vickie Maxwell in District B by a mere 48 votes—both of them garnering more votes for their growth-control platforms than incumbent Nels Roseland who came under fire for being too cozy with developers.
"It was a close race because I had two credible opponents: a two-term incumbent and a well-known, well-liked community activist," Frantz said Tuesday when the runoff results were tallied. "We had to work our rear end off to win this thing."
Maxwell called support from campaigners "humbling" and vowed to continue her work with the domestic-violence support agency Interact, while monitoring development and environmental issues in Cary.
"Voters voted for change," Maxwell said. "When I was out canvassing, I heard it. I knew that's what they wanted. I was not surprised that Nels came in third with a pretty small percentage."
Meanwhile, in a 58 percent to 41 percent victory, former councilman Harold Weinbrecht, a longtime proponent of smart growth, defeated incumbent Mayor Ernie McAlister, who raised more than half of his $108,000 campaign budget from real estate and development interests.
In all, McAlister's campaign contributions outpaced by five times the amount raised by Weinbrecht, who referred to his 2,928-vote mayoral victory as a "huge upset."
"Battling traffic, it's miserable. It's not the Cary we moved to," Karly Brown said after voting for Weinbrecht at Cary Fire Station No. 5. The District A polling station was located near the intersection of Davis Drive and High House Road—the proposed site of a mixed-use development project that council members approved after developers altered the plan apparently in order to nullify citizen petitions.
Another voter, who wished to remain anonymous, said outside the District B polling station at Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church that he voted against "extreme growth." He also voted "yes" for countywide referendums on bonds for open space, libraries and Wake Technical Community College. All three referendums passed easily, with each earning around 70 percent of the vote in Wake County.
Several voters mentioned they had a hard time picking a mayor. One voter compared the choice to "eenie meenie miny moe," and another said she would've written-in this reporter had we made acquaintances 10 minutes earlier. Outside the District A polling station at Davis Drive Middle School, Lisa Phillips called her vote for Weinbrecht a "difficult decision."
"I was a little skeptical of Harold's record, but he was saying the things I wanted to hear about slowing growth," she said, adding that if Weinbrecht didn't follow through, the mayor-elect would "hear from" her.
At a victory party at Embassy Suites, Weinbrecht celebrated with about 100 supporters, most wearing yellow campaign T-shirts.
Weinbrecht, who wore a pinstriped navy suit, maintained a wide grin for most of the night.
"To have the people of Cary show up, and show that they're intelligent, show their pride, and show that they vote what they believe in—that's really just an awesome feeling," he said, with supporters swarming.
He called the handling of Davis and High House "ridiculous" and "unethical" and vowed to reform the citizen participation process for future development.
"People voted for change," he said. "They're ready for the council to listen to them."
Nurse practitioner Gale Adcock, who won District D's open seat with 55 percent of the vote, said the margin of victory for candidates such as Weinbrecht reflected a desire for more thoughtful decisions about growth.
"To me the distance in the vote between Harold and Ernie was a referendum on the leadership we've had the last four years. Citizens have clearly said, 'Do things differently. Listen to us.' [McAlister] unfortunately did not listen, and this is the outcome," she said.
Incumbent at-large councilman Erv Portman, who received late endorsements from former challengers Roger Hill and Susan Lawson, took the strongest victory of the night, defeating real estate developer Tommy Byrd by a margin of 69 percent to 21 percent.
Portman, who was appointed to his seat in February, attributed the landslide victory, in part, to his "common sense" on growth.
He said voters' frustrations with recent development had a "huge effect" on the race.
"There's a perception that realtors and developers have the skids greased for them, and I think people resent it," he said.
Like Weinbrecht, Portman said the victory signaled a desire for citizens to become a part of governmental processes.
"I think we'll have more discussion and dialogue at the council table," Portman said. "The positive side of that is the citizens will understand the discussion and be a part of it."
After unofficial results were announced Oct. 9, Weinbrecht's supporters gathered around a live TV broadcast at Embassy Suites. As the crowd hushed, one woman said, "I could hear it 100 times; I want to cry."