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The Daily Tar Heel

Local PACs drive out incumbents on Orange County Board of Commissioners

District 1 could be headed for recount

Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich reviews documents at a joint school boards meeting between Orange County Public Schools, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and the Board of County Commissioners. The meeting took place on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020 at the Whitted Building in Hillsborough, N.C.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated a claim about the Save Orange Schools PAC and Chapel Hill Leadership PAC endorsing candidates in the 2020 Orange County commissioners election.These PACs did not endorse candidates, but their affiliated organizations — Save Orange Schools and the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT) did endorse candidates in the election. The article has been updated to reflect the change. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners got a shake up in Tuesday’s election.

One-term incumbent Mark Marcoplos was unseated by challenger Amy Fowler, vice chairperson of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) Board of Education, in the at-large race. Fowler received 77.54 percent to Marcoplos’ 22.46 percent, according to unofficial results.

Two commissioners will be elected from the three candidates who ran for District 1. Jean Hamilton, a former member of the CHCCS Board, won one of the seats with 37.73 percent of the vote. Penny Rich received 31.15 percent and Mark Dorosin received 31.12 percent, according to unofficial results.  

With just nine votes separating Rich and Dorosin for the second seat in District 1, the election has the potential for a recount. But Rachel Raper, director of the Orange County Board of Elections, said the vote totals may change before the vote is certified. 

“There are still mail-in absentee and provisional ballots to be counted,” she said.

According to state elections law, non-prevailing candidates in elections with less than a one percent margin may request a recount after the Orange County Board of Elections certifies the results.

“The pre-canvas meeting will happen on March 12 at 4:30, and that’s when we’ll know exactly where the results stand,” Raper said.

One major factor in this race was the endorsements from local groups, such as the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT) — financially supported by Chapel Hill Leadership PAC — and Save Orange Schools — financially supported by Save Orange Schools PAC. 

While Thomas Henkel said they are unrelated, he serves as treasurer for both PACs and both are filed at his address.

“CHALT is not related to Save Orange Schools at all,” he said. “They endorsed Jean Hamilton and Amy Fowler.” 

But Rich said the two are strongly related. 

“The CHALT PAC has been around for a long time. CHALT and Save Orange Schools are the same thing,” she said. “It’s just different ways to funnel money into candidates.”

For many voters, like Krista Bremer of Carrboro, the endorsements of local interest groups were an important factor in the ballot box. 

“I actually work from the endorsements that are provided by the organizations that I trust,” she said. 

Rich said if she does win another term, she intends to continue her work on the Board. 

“I don’t change what I’m going to do in the next term,” she said. “Other people might come up with a different vision. But mine still remains the same: protect what we love while creating opportunity for all the residents in Orange County.”

Rich said her primary criticism of the non-incumbent candidates was that their plans were not specific enough. 

“You kept on hearing that we needed to get more money to our schools. But none of the challengers ever told us how we were gonna do that,” she said.

Hamilton told The Daily Tar Heel last month that protecting education funding was one of her priorities.

“I believe we do not have to sacrifice education in order to meet our priorities of economic development, equity and the environment,” she said.

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Rich’s campaign manager Josh Mayo said the final results will come down to the totals once the results are certified next week. 

“We will need to go to the final canvas, which will happen next week at the Board of Elections," he said. “We will see who is ahead at that point.”


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