Our thoughts

by Marimar McNaughton, Cole Dittmer, Kelly Corbett, Dan Bowden
Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The question heard around the world this week has been: Is there white smoke? White smoke curling from the Sistine Chapel denotes the two-thirds majority selection of a new pope by the conclave of cardinals.

As of press time, the papal enclave had released black smoke on the morning of Wednesday, March 13. By the day’s end, the conclave of cardinals assembled for discourse and vote released white smoke and announced the election of Pope Francis I. 

The tradition of using smoke for signaling the election of a new pope dates back to 1870, and the use of the black or white color scheme only started in 1914 with the election of Pope Benedict XV. 

But, despite the ritual and accompanying pomp and circumstance that surrounds the pope’s election and inauguration, the actual release of the smoke signal is quizzically lackluster. 

Have you seen the online photos? Just a plume of black ash from what appears to be a copper pipe extending approximately one foot above a flat roof on a Vatican City building.

Yet an earthly hoard of anxious onlookers await for the black to clear to white while the decision makers smolder over their choice. As we have been taught, where there is smoke there is fire.

In announcing his early resignation — the first in 598 years — that Pope Benedict XVI is the Vatican City’s fire starter. 

Here in New Hanover County we might say we have a fire starter of our own. Around the same time the pope announced his step down, Commissioner Jonathan Barfield Jr. announced his plans to step up. 

On Feb. 26, Barfield told Frances Weller on WECT TV that he would seek the Democratic Party nomination for U.S. Congressman Mike McIntyre’s seat in the 2014 general election. Lumina News staff writer Kelly Corbett reported on Feb. 27 that Barfield said it was not the first time he had raised the subject.

“Last year, Gov. Perdue announced that she was not going to seek re-election. Congressman McIntyre indicated that he may run for governor,” Barfield said. “At that point, I was interviewed by WECT and I assured them that if he did that I would definitely run for his seat.”

The McIntyre camp’s statement that it was kind of early to be campaigning just eight weeks into his ninth term in office indicates that Barfield’s announcement — just like the pope’s — came as a surprise to opponent as well as to many of his constituents. 

But was the announcement a surprise to Barfield’s cardinals, aka, the New Hanover County Democratic Party, or those who will choose his successor?

It could be said many local Democrats are huddling in private rooms with the weight of New Hanover County’s future bearing down upon them. We offer you this prediction about who might succeed Barfield and why: As the New Hanover County Board of Elections prepares for candidates to file for seats on Wilmington City Council — July 5-19, 2013, for the midterm election on Nov. 5, 2013, Barfield will prepare his resignation from the New Hanover County Commissioners, maybe as far as a year out from the May 2014 primary.

He’ll say it’s to devote his time and attention to building his campaign. In reality, it’s so the Democrats can choose a successor to fill his unexpired term.

Will the Democrats choose a hard-lined liberal, someone like Deb Butler, who ran for commissioner in 2010? Not likely. Butler is too outspoken, and following her unsuccessful bid for commissioner, she failed to win a second general election when she opposed state Sen. Thom Goolsby in District 9 in 2012.

Whoever the Democrats choose to succeed, Barfield must be approved not only by local Democrats but also by the seated commissioners, all conservative Republicans except Barfield, the lone Democrat.

No. Whoever the Democrats put forward will also have to be conservative.

How about Wilmington Mayor Pro Tem Dr. Earl Sheridan? Not a Democrat who sought and won two consecutive terms is more conservative than Sheridan, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Rumor is he will serve if asked. His seat on city council is up for re-election, along with Charlie Rivenbark and Kevin O’Grady, so he would need to be asked, approved by the Democrats and appointed into office by the Commissioners pretty quickly. Working backward from the candidate filing deadline, maybe now would be a good time for Barfield to resign.

Then what happens to Sheridan’s seat? Don’t think there is not already a plan underway to secure that for another conservative, African American councilman or councilwoman, election or no election. 

But what about Barfield? Is he just donning a coat of a lamb’s wool ready for the slaughter? Some say he could take the senior Congressman in their party’s primary because McIntyre, long the champion of beach towns and veterans, has crossed the aisle to vote as a bipartisan so often in the last 16 years that many of his constituents regard him as just another Republican.

Barfield will surely win the African American vote, but he is going to have to play a lot of golf and kiss a lot of babies if he thinks he has a shot at a big enough percentage of the female vote and the undecided vote to win a general election against a Republican opponent in a freshly mapped District 7. 

Heck, McIntyre barely won, and his election was contested by his opponent, former state Sen. David Rouzer, who was among the legislators who redrew the districts to begin with and still didn’t win in his district.

Rouzer came close (McIntyre won by 655 votes out of 336,000 votes cast) and it would be surprising if his party did not support him once more. Ilario Pantano, the rouge Marine turned county sheriff, it is rumored is being moved out of District 7 and into the middle of nowhere — maybe the Badlands where his gunslinger style might be more welcomed. 

Let’s not forget about the sleeper, good old Will Breazeale, who twice sought to take McIntyre out in two consecutive elections in 2008 and 2010. 

Breazeale, the Beechcraft Baron pilot, may just have a little smoke left in his engines.

Barfield beware, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.


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