Unlike the mayors of north Mecklenburg’s other two towns, Cornelius and Davidson, who are unopposed in their re-election bids, Jill Swain is facing a challenger in her bid for a fifth straight term as Huntersville’s mayor.
It’s a familiar position for Swain, who has been opposed in each of her four mayoral wins. In 2013, Swain edged Jim Puckett, who a year later won back his old District 1 seat on the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. This year, Swain’s opponent is another familiar face to many Huntersville voters.
John Aneralla, 53, lost the 2012 Republican Primary for N.C. Senate District 41 to former Cornelius Mayor Jeff Tarte, who went on to win the general election and still holds the seat. Aneralla also served as chairman of the Mecklenburg County GOP from 2004 to 2007. Huntersville’s mayoral and Town Council races are non-partisan.
Swain, 55, a marketing consultant who served four two-year terms on the Huntersville Town Board before becoming mayor, is often mentioned as a possible candidate for higher office. But she said there’s a reason she’s spent 16 years at Town Hall.
“I am clearly not aiming for any other office,” she said. “I think the important issues and solutions happen locally. And I want to be the candidate who can say that my record proves that my dedication is to our town. I haven’t run for other offices.”
It’s a comment aimed directly at Aneralla, owner of a consulting business and an asset-management firm who has run for other office. But Aneralla said it’s his more than a quarter-century in the financial services industry, not his political past, that will help in Huntersville’s efforts to keep pace with explosive population growth.
“Our citizens simply deserve better,” Aneralla said of the town’s leadership.
Aneralla noted that Huntersville property tax rate of 30.5 cents per $100 in value is higher than neighboring Cornelius’s rate of 27.5 cents.
“And we’re getting less in return,” Aneralla said. “The people of Huntersville deserve a town government that is responsive to their needs, fiscally responsible, effective and efficient.”
Swain replied that tax rates alone don’t reflect a municipality’s fiscal stewardship. For example, Huntersville’s annual property tax revenue amounts to $346 per citizen, compared to $494 in Cornelius. The difference is due largely to higher overall property values in Cornelius, fueled by a large number of expensive, lakefront homes, and a younger population with more children (and larger households) in Huntersville.
Aneralla was an early opponent of a public-private partnership to add toll lanes to a 26-mile stretch of Interstate 77, including Lake Norman. Swain, while not a vocal supporter of the project, has apologized to state officials for some of the anti-toll rhetoric offered by her Town Board colleagues
In the Town Board race, all five incumbents – Melinda Bales, Rob Kidwell, Sarah McAulay, Jeff Neely and Danny Phillips – are joined on a crowded ballot by eight challengers, including former commissioner Charles Guignard, Dan Boone, Phil Carey, Sharon Eskridge, Mark Gibbons, Toni Primiano, Leonard Richardson III and Nick Walsh.
Swain said she has heard early talk of a potential slate of town candidates joining together in an attempt to take the town in a different direction than it has gone during her tenure as a commissioner and mayor, during which the town’s population has grown from about 5,000 to more than 51,000.
“The mayoral role sometimes has to break ties (the only time the mayor joins the Town Board in voting),” she said. “If there proves to be a slate in this election, perhaps there will be a quest to assure a majority, which shouldn’t be an objective, in my opinion, by people who are public servants. We are nonpartisan, and it has worked well.”
For his part, Aneralla said he plans to run on his own merits and not as part of a slate.
John Deem is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org