by Bob Geary
The voters in Raleigh and Wake County soundly rejected "neighborhood schools" and Tea Party Republicanism Tuesday in favor of centrist Democratic candidates. Click here for a rundown of the vote totals:
* The Republican majority on the Wake County school board is no more, pending only the result of a likely runoff election in District 3. But Board Chair Ron Margiotta, the Republican leader, was ousted by challenger Susan Evans, a registered Democrat, in District 8 (Southwest Wake), which is generally viewed as THE most Republican of the nine school board districts. Evans won by a solid 52-48 percent margin in what can only be viewed as a stunning repudiation of Margiotta's and the Republican school board's extremism.
* Democratic candidates won or led by wide margins in the other four school board district races. Keith Sutton buried Republican Venita Peyton in District 4 (Southeast Raleigh). Jim Martin was an easy winner over Republican Cynthia Matson in District 5 (West Raleigh and Southwest Wake). Ditto Christine Kushner over Republican Donna Williams and two other candidates in District 6 (Central Raleigh).
* In District 3, incumbent Kevin Hill, a former school principal and a registered Democrat, led Republican activist Heather Losurdo by about 10 percent, but with two other candidates in the race, Hill apparently fell about 40 votes shy of an outright majority. Losurdo reportedly plans to call for a runoff in November.
In the school board races overall, turnout was about 21 percent of registered voters, which doesn't sound like a lot but is twice the turnout of the 2009 elections, in which the Republicans seized their 5-4 board majority.
In '09, Republican candidates won all four seats on the ballot, with John Tedesco winning his District 2 (Southeast Wake) seat in a runoff. Tedesco, Chris Malone, Debra Goldman and Deborah Prickett remain on the board for two more years, but without Margiotta, first elected to the District 8 board seat in 2003, they'll find themselves in a 5-4 minority unless Losurdo somehow is able to unseat Hill in a runoff.
Given Losurdo's nosedive late in the campaign when voters learned more about her, Hill seems in a commanding position going into a runoff. A Public Policy Polling survey of District 3 voters a week ago gave Hill a 16-point edge over Losurdo in a head-to-head contest.
Similarly, in the Raleigh city elections the Republicans lost across the board to Democrats and progressive-minded independents.
The latter term describes City Councilor Nancy McFarlane, who won the mayor's race by trouncing Republicans Billie Redmond and Dr. Randall Williams. McFarlane won 61 percent of the vote in the three-way contest.
In the at-large City Council race, Democratic incumbents held their seats against a lone Republican challenger. Mary-Ann Baldwin and Russ Stephenson were re-elected with twice as many votes as Republican Paul Fitts.
Independent candidate Randy Stagner will replace McFarlane as the District A (North Raleigh) representative on Council. Stager was an easy winner over Republican Gail Wilkins.
And in District C (Southeast Raleigh), incumbent Eugene Weeks, who was appointed to his seat a year ago when it was vacated by now-County Commissioner James West, won a convincing first-round knockout over four opponents, getting 56 percent of the votes.
For a Republican Party bent on holding its school board majority and taking the Raleigh mayor's post after 10 years of Democrat Charles Meeker in charge, Tuesday's results were nothing short of a colossal collapse. Democratic voters, who were asleep at the switch two years ago when the GOP won the school board elections, rose up in big numbers this time to push them out.
After the GOP wins in Wake County in '09 and statewide in North Carolina (and nationally) in '10, do the '11 results in North Carolina's Capital City and County mark the beginning of a Democratic resurgence?
Downtown in Raleigh tonight, it was hard to find anyone who didn't think the answer to that question is yes.