Showing up to polls in a "steady trickle," as one campaigner put it (another insisted on "drip"), one-fifth of Cary's registered voters cast a resounding vote yesterday against unchecked development.
In a 58 percent to 42 percent victory, former councilman Harold Weinbrecht, a longtime proponent of smart growth, defeated incumbent 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 2,439-vote victory (not counting provisional ballots) as a "huge upset."
Thursday, Oct. 11, update: Since Tuesday night, the Wake County Board of Elections has increased Harold Weinbrecht's unofficial margin of victory over Ernie McAlister to 2,941 votes. Taking into account write-in ballots, these results give Weinbrecht a 58 percent to 41 percent advantage. Official results, including provisional ballots, will be announced Oct. 16.
"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 High House Road and Davis Drive—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 county-wide 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.
One ineligible voter outside the middle school had other reasons for supporting the new mayor: "You have to vote for Harold Weinbrecht because he works at SAS, and he's my daddy's friend. Then I can say my dad talked to the mayor," he said.
At a victory party at Embassy Suites, Weinbrecht celebrated with about 100 supporters, almost all of whom wore 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."
The closest race occurred in District B, with an instant run-off vote likely to be decided between Don Frantz (1,019 votes) and Vickie Maxwell (900 votes). Incumbent Nels Roseland finished last with 700 votes.
After a mandatory hand-count of two randomly selected precincts, the Wake County Board of Elections will hand-tally any races without a majority winner, considering any second or third-choice votes for the top two candidates. After adding certified provisional votes to the total, the board will declare a winner Oct. 16.
Nurse practitioner Gale Adcock, who won District D's open seat with 54 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.
McAlister was not available for immediate comment.
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 22 percent.
Portman 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.
Byrd was not available for immediate comment.
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 last night's unofficial results were announced, 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."