The Orange County Commissioners primary race: What you need to know
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misquoted County Commissioner Penny Rich. The quote should have read “My vision for the county is to protect what we love but also be able to create opportunities for people." The story has been updated to reflect the change. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.
On March 3, voters across North Carolina will head to the polls to choose their preferred candidates for offices at all levels of government in the 2020 primary election.
With just over a month to go, the primary race for Orange County’s Board of County Commissioners is heating up.
In fact, this may present one of the rare cases where the primary may be more consequential than the general election in terms of who winds up on the board come next term.
Candidates must register as either representing District 1 or District 2, or they can run as an at-large candidate, meaning that they are representing the county as a whole.
District 1 consists of the southern half of the county, which is home to downtown Chapel Hill, Carrboro and other urban centers. District 2 is made up of the northern half of the county, which is more rural than its southern neighbor.
Two seats must be filled for District 1, while only one seat is open for District 2 and the at-large designation.
Penny Rich is one of two candidates running in District 1 that is currently on the board. She also serves as the chairperson.
Rich has a history of participation in local government. She served as a member of the Orange Water and Sewer Board of Directors and the Chapel Hill Town Council before joining the BOCC in 2012.
Rich said her campaign is focusing on the issues of climate change, education, social justice and economic development. She said she would aim to continue the county’s investment in these fields were she to be reelected.
“My vision for the county is to protect what we love but also be able to create opportunities for people,” Rich said.
Mark Dorosin is the other incumbent candidate for District 1. He said he would aim to work for social justice and racial equity, with affordable housing being one of his top priorities.
He said he wants to expand on his initiatives for criminal justice reform, attracting more outside investment to Orange County and increasing funds to local schools in order to provide more opportunities for marginalized groups.
“Figuring out a way to protect our goals and values while ensuring we aren’t pushing out working people and lower-income families is critical," Dorosin said.
Jean Hamilton, a licensed clinical social worker who had previously served on the CHCCS Board of Education, is the challenger in this race.
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She said the alarming lack of collaboration between the county commissioners and the school board was the reason she decided to run for this office. She said she hopes to develop an organized and effective plan for the county’s education budget.
Her core priorities are education, the environment and economic development, and she hopes to provide solutions that can have a real impact on the county’s citizens.
“What drives me is really working to help improve people’s lives, especially the most vulnerable,” Hamilton said. “That’s what motivates me in my public service.”
The at-large race is also being contested, with incumbent Commissioner Mark Marcoplos trying to keep his seat on the board.
He said running at large means he has to consider issues that affect the whole county, which he will keep in mind when trying to tackle economic inequality, funding local schools and bringing more jobs into the county.
He described himself as the prototypical at-large candidate, citing his connections in Chapel Hill and Hillsborough, as well as having lived in the rural part of the county for over 30 years.
“You have to keep in mind everyone in the county,” Marcoplos said. “You can’t just tailor to one district.”
The challenger in this district is Amy Fowler, who currently serves as the vice-chairperson for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education, a role she said she would be prepared to give up to serve as county commissioner.
Not surprisingly, she said education is a top priority for her. She said she believes all issues are connected somehow to education, including providing better transportation, public health and economic development options for the county.
“I want to step up to the Board of County Commissioners to make sure that we are adequately funding our schools,” said Fowler.
Renee Price, who is currently the vice-chairperson of the BOCC, is running unopposed in her district and will advance to the general election in November.
She said her focus is on a plan for providing access, opportunity and inclusion for the citizens of Orange County. She also stressed the importance of education, which she said takes up most of the county’s spending.
“We should be making sure that every child has a quality education,” she said.
She and the other six candidates said they are all looking for victories in the primary race so they can advance to the general election come early November.