Our thoughts

by Marimar McNaughton
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Early voting started a week ago, but who really cares?

Our man-on-the-street Q-and-A posed the question: Do you vote in nonpresidential elections? Five people elicited a 60/40 response. (See page 5 for the answers.)

And who can blame them? What a lackluster off-year campaign season. There are just a dozen days until the next election, Nov. 5. Three out of four mayoral seats are uncontested.

The Wrightsville ballot, which, like all ballots, can be downloaded online, contains just five options: unopposed mayoral candidate Bill Blair and four candidates for alderman, Andy Hall, Hank Miller, incumbent Bill Sisson and Lisa Weeks, two of whom will go home on election night empty handed.

Similarly, the City of Wilmington’s ballot also shows Mayor Bill Saffo running unopposed, and six candidates, Derrick Bickel, Felix Cooper, Kevin O’Grady, Charlie Rivenbark, Earl Sheridan and Skip Watkins. Here again half of the pack will not see victory.

At Kure Beach, Mayor Dean Lambeth is assured of a win, and Craig Bloszinsky and Steve Pagley are also running unopposed for council and are assured of victory, unless, like in all uncontested cases, a write-in vote prevails. 

Carolina Beach is the only municipality with a contested mayoral race, pitting incumbent Bob Lewis against seasoned council member Dan Wilcox. Then five candidates Tom Bridges, Gary Doetsch, Leann Pierce, Jody Smith and Mike Worley vie for just two open seats on the board. 

Unless out-voted by a write-in candidate, Wrightsville Beach voters will elect Bill Blair, the second town mayor to run unopposed since Stephen K. Whalen in 2007. 

Wilmington’s Saffo and Kure’s Lambeth will serve their third consecutive terms. Six years of Saffo and Lambeth. Don’t get me wrong, they’re likable, albeit Lambeth in a somewhat prickly way, but it’s kinda like watching a made-for Netflix Old World miniseries with fiefdom overtones. Not that Blair, Saffo or Lambeth rule like feudal overlords, just sayin’, it can be boring. 

Without perennial dark horse favorites like Ricky Meeks and Justin LaNasa to liven up the city council’s ballot, Felix Cooper is the year’s most colorful candidate. Cooper, a former bean counter, lives in an assisted living facility. The signage outside of his entry reads: Man Cave. Inside, it’s decorated with Felix the Cat stuff. Of all the contenders, he seems the most genuine; no real agenda, just a happy-go-lucky character who might in fact own the most legitimate reason for running: because he wants more time out of the assisted living facility. 

We know the facts about Cooper because our staff writer Sam Wilson and our director of photography Allison Potter paid personal visits to his Felix cave.

In fact all of our candidate coverage has been conducted face-to-face or by telephone so far. It’s our belief this begins the trust-building process. If we interview a candidate before the election — eyeball to eyeball — we’ve already begun to establish the relationship that helps us understand the elected official after the swearing-in ceremony. 

Yet, we’re chagrined to learn that other news outlets opted to only conduct email interviews. 

By its nature, journalism, while personal, is intended to be objective. Is it journalism when you allow the candidates to essentially profile themselves? Isn’t that P.R.? Where is the objectivity?

Yet, if you examine the origins of journalism, you will find it rooted in observation, not so much objectivity. Here’s where it gets tricky: if a journalist is an observer, can that journalist also be objective? By our nature, mankind is seldom if ever truly objective. 

And so it was when Sam Wilson, the same staff writer who visited Felix Cooper in his man cave, attended a recent meeting of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority that he walked away with a set of observations wholly different than those of the CFPUA’s public information officer, Mike McGill.

McGill insists that Wilson got it wrong, but we stand by Wilson’s coverage except for a mis-attributed quote which has been corrected online and, in this issue, in print. In hindsight, the story could have been better balanced but we, editorially, admit a tendency to lean in favor of the environment. It was suggested by McGill that we read the Star News coverage of the same meeting, or Port City Daily’s.

These are the same news outlets that conduct email interviews of candidates for political office. Why would we look to them for guidance? We are neither a daily metropolitan newspaper owned by a news corp, nor an online-only outlet also owned by a radio conglomerate. We are an independently owned, award-winning weekly/community newspaper beholden to none. We publish authentic stories built on the point of human contact. Our base of operations began in Wrightsville Beach. Our coverage has expanded to city and county. In the weeks and years to come it will be the entire county working together as one to hold onto this way of life we all consider so dear.  

Turning our eyes to the Wrightsville election for which we have printed fair and unbiased candidate profiles, we wonder who will serve beside Mayor Blair: Sisson the incumbent, Lisa Weeks the former alderwoman, Hank Miller III the commercial real estate broker, or newcomer Andy Hall? 

When Hall threw his hat into the ring, he was the first we sat down with eyeball to eyeball. We reported he is a doctor, a radiologist, an admitted workaholic who lives on West Columbia Street and he is a surfer. We did not report that Hall owned multiple properties besides his place on Columbia purchased in 2004 — including investment property, a downtown parking lot, and a vacant lot and a residence on Carolina Beach Road purchased in 2009. It has been suggested that Hall may in fact live on Carolina Beach Road, which places him squarely in the unincorporated area of New Hanover County. But we didn’t email him, or text him, to confirm or deny the rumor. We called him. Hall stopped by our office on Wednesday and said he lives on the beach on Columbia Street. That is good enough for us and the election laws. 

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