Democrats were poised to reclaim their majority on the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners late Tuesday, as the party swept all three of the open at-large seats.
Pat Cotham, a Democrat who works as a job advocate and recruiter, led the seven-candidate field with 241,509 votes, or 19.8 percent of all ballots cast, according to complete but unofficial results.
She was followed by Kim Ratliff, who won 19.61 percent of the vote. Coming in third was Trevor Fuller, with 19.08 percent of votes, according to the unofficial returns.
Trailing were Republicans Michael Hobbs, James Peterson and Wayne Powers, and Libertarian Jason Bateman.
The at-large race marked the first time in at least two decades that newcomers will fill all three of the countywide seats. Two of the current at-large members ran for Congress while the current board chair did not seek elective office this year.
It also will give Democrats a six-to-three majority on the county board, which theoretically would make it easier for the party to push through some spending or other initiatives in coming years.
Still Cotham said she thinks it will be important for the entire board, regardless of party, to get along and govern. “We need to be a collaborative team,” she said.
As the top vote getter, Cotham could be in line to be the next board chair. Commissioners will vote on the board leadership roles at their first meeting in December.
Democrats last swept all three of the at-large seats in 2008, and held on to the majority — albeit by a smaller margin — two years later. But the party temporarily lost its advantage on the board earlier this year when Chair Harold Cogdell switched his party registration to unaffiliated.
On Tuesday, the three Democratic nominees were in the lead from the moment absentee votes were released and the party maintained a comfortable advantage as precinct returns trickled in during the evening.
Hobbs, an industrial chemical salesman, finished fourth in the at-large race and was the top vote-getter among the Republican nominees. He said while he was disappointed in the outcome, he was “under no illusion” about the makeup of voters in the state. He said his campaign tried to reach out to unaffiliated but “we weren’t able to get enough of the independent voters to break our way, and I think that was really the key.”
Adding another challenge, Hobbs said, was the lack of media coverage on the commissioners race compared to the presidential and other competitions. “There was so little attention paid to the at-large race, which is really one of the only true local races of any significance,” he said.
The new at-large commissioners will join a county board that is still rebuilding after the recession. Although the county’s revenue sources, particularly sales taxes, have stabilized in the past two budgets, they haven’t yet rebounded to pre-recession levels.
Deciding how quickly to grow services likely will be a major debate for the board in the coming years. So too will be deciding how best to support Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and new Superintendent Heath Morrison.
Cotham has said she believes supporting education and jobs is critical for the county. Ratliff has said the county should increase funding for CMS and Central Piedmont Community College saying “the better educated our children are, the more opportunities there are to have an educated workforce.”
Fuller has called throughout the campaign for the commissioners to come up with a clear vision plan that outlines board priorities for the future. That, he said, could help direct other decisions on areas like spending.