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Historic wins for Dance and Dixon; Record turnout produces big wins for Democrats locally

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Paula Dance, right, candidate for Pitt County Sheriff, and Sheriff Neil Elks watch election results come in at the Hilton on Nov. 6, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Tyler Stocks and Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Voters in Pitt County made history Tuesday when they elected the first black woman to the office of sheriff and the first black man to the office of district attorney.

Democrat Paula Dance, 53, a major with the sheriff’s office, defeated Republican Gary Weaver in the sheriff’s race 31,853 to 26,523 votes in unofficial returns, according to the Pitt County Board of Elections. Democrat Faris Dixon defeated Republican Glen Perry 30,313 to 27,896 votes in the race for Pitt County district attorney.

“I wanted everybody to come on this journey with me because I knew it was going to be different than anybody else’s race,” Dance said during a victory party held by Democrats at the Hilton Greenville on Tuesday night.

“There's never been anybody who looked like me, who was my gender, to run for sheriff. I knew there were a lot of people who worked hard and I knew that I had what it took to do this. I stepped out on a leap of faith and I did it. I want to say thank you God, and I got a lot of people beside me who've been there and for me since day one,” Dance said

Dance will succeed Neil Elks, who was elected to the office in 2010. Elks defeated three-term Sheriff Mac Manning. Manning unseated Billy Vandiford in 1998, and Vandiford unseated Ralph Tyson in 1990. Elks, Manning, Vandiford and Tyson all were Democrats. Weaver was hoping to be possibly the first Republican sheriff.

Dixon, 51, will replace District Attorney Kimberly Robb. Robb, who fired Dixon from his job as an assistant prosecutor, did not seek re-election, opting instead run for state Senate. She lost that bid on Tuesday to incumbent Democrat Don Davis.

“This was a long hard race,” Dixon said. “I have to thank all of my loyal supporters and most of all, I give credit to my lord and savior, Jesus Christ. I intend to serve the public, and I want Pitt County to be proud of our DAs office. I want to be accessible to our citizens and find out what changes they want to see happen. My goal is to make sure the office is transparent and citizens have confidence in what we do,” Dixon said.

Perry congratulated Dixon on his accomplishment.

“I want to congratulate Mr. Dixon on a well run campaign,” Perry said. “I want to thank my supporters, they did a good job for me. I hope Mr. Dixon will considering appointing members of the current DA staff. We have a great staff of attorneys and employees. I hope he will give them consideration when he assumes his new office. I've called Mr. Dixon and left a voice mail. I want to thank the people who supported me during the campaign and came out and voted for me,” Perry said.

Perry said he would like the opportunity to work alongside Dixon and continue serving its citizens.

“If Mr. Dixon sees fit to consider me appointing me as an assistant DA, I will continue serving the citizens of Pitt County. If not, I'll try to find another way to serve.”

In a highly contested race for Pitt County District Court judge, Republican Daniel Hines Entzminger defeated Democrats Mario Perez and Jarrette Pittman. Entzminger will replace Perez, Pitt County's first Hispanic District Court judge, who was appointed in May by Gov. Roy Cooper. Efforts to reach Entzminger for comment were unsuccessful.

Entzminger had 23,305 votes to 20,187 for Perez and 20,187 for Pittman in unofficial totals. The Pitt County Board of Elections will conduct a canvass on Nov. 16 to count approved provisionals ballots and timely received absentees ballots.

Candidates who lost races by a margin of 1 percent or less may seek a recount after the canvass. 

That might come into play in a tight race between candidates for the District 3 seat on the Pitt County Board of Commissioners. Democrat Chris Nunnally defeated Republican Richard Allsbrook by 10 votes in unofficial totals, 4,883 to 4,873.

"Obviously, if we did prevail by 10 votes, I am very excited to serve as the next commissioner in District 3 and ... you know, I'm kind of speechless. You know, that's pretty tight ... We had a wonderful organization on the ground today and a lot of volunteers really pitched in and that kind of stuff makes a difference so hopefully it will stick. ... I will add that Richard, my opponent and I, he's really a model of the way to run a race ... It was positive. It was on the issues. ...”

Allsbrook said the race shows Pitt County voters care. “I did call Mr. Nunnally and congratulated him based on the results as we have it right now. I think both he and I are questioning what happens next in terms of a potential recount being the numbers are so close ... but we have mutual respect for each other and he ran a great campaign ... so based on (how) the numbers stand right now I certainly congratulate him and support him on his winning of the race.”

In the other contested race for the Board of Commissioners, Democrat Alex Albright beat Benji Holloman 5,847 votes to 5,610 to win the District 4 seat. Albright could not be reached for comment.

Turnout for the election was at 47.14 percent, the highest for a midterm in recent memory. At total of 58,795 people cast ballots out of 124,714 registered. That includes 32,682 who cast ballots during the 18-day early voting period.

Voting was steady throughout Pitt County on Tuesday, said Elections Director Dave Davis. Voters in only a few precincts experienced waits, he said.

Poll workers at First Christian Church, Greenville No. 10B, and Winterville Fire Station Community Room, Winterville North, each had about 10 people in line when the doors opened at 6:30 a.m. A line of about 30 formed at Salem United Methodist Church, Simpson B, around noon, Davis said.

Michael Enright of Greenville said he cast his ballot at Greenville No. 9, Hooker Memorial Christian Church, because he supports President Trump’s agenda.

“I favor him strongly and I want him to stay strong,” Enright said. Helping the president means voting Republican. “He needs the support of Republicans because Democrats aren’t going to support him; they are going to be out there undermining him.”

East Carolina University student James Jones, who is studying information technology, voted for the first time at Hooker.

“I feel like a lot of people regret not voting in the last election,” Jones said. He counts himself among that group. Young voters like himself are disenchanted with the process, questioning if their vote really counts.

For Jones, whatever apathy he previously felt was countered by Paula Dance, the first African-American woman to run for sheriff in Pitt County.

“I went mainly for Democrats,” he said.

Toni Rosas, who also voted at Hooker Memorial, split her votes between Democrats and Republicans, specifically voting for Dance, a Democrat, in the sheriff’s race, and Republican Glenn Perry for district attorney.

Rosas said Dance’s law enforcement experience, especially her time as a detective, gave her the necessary experience to manage the sheriff’s office. Rosas said she believes the district attorney’s office has been well run and believes Perry would have continued that service.

Most voters interviewed Tuesday said they believed the midterm election narrative of a divided nation had been overblown.

“I know there was a time when someone like me couldn’t have voted,” said Gina Staton, who is African-American.

On the opposite side of town, ECU students and employees with Vidant Health and Medical Center streamed in and out of Greenville No. 3 at Eppes Recreation Center.

“I wasn’t coming out in support or against anything,” said Ryan Richards, who works at the medical center. “I was coming out to make sure my voice is heard.”

Friends Caily Hastings and Jordan Kay, ECU students, voted together at Eppes. Tuesday was Kay’s third election and Hastings second.

“We want students to be represented in Greenville,” Kay said. “We did our research and I personally chose the candidates I thought would be represents the students of ECU.”

“I want to get my voice out and I want my community to be better,” Hastings said.

Both women voted for Gary Weaver for sheriff, saying they like what he wanted to do to address crime in the community.

Karen Eckert and Bobby Burns contributed to this report

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