Incumbent county commissioner Albert Kirby won re-election easily Tuesday night, garnering two-thirds of the vote to retain his District 5 seat.
Kirby collected 623 votes, nearly 64 percent, to defeat challenger Eugene Pearsall, who amassed 352 votes, or 36 percent.
With the decisive victory, Kirby will sit on the board for the next four years. Republican Sue Lee is poised to join him, as she was unopposed in Tuesday’s primary and, like Kirby, will have no opposition for the District 3 seat on November’s ballot. The winner of District 1’s race between Republican Clark Wooten and Democrat Brent Baggett will join them in a new-look board.
Reflecting on Tuesday night’s results, Kirby said Wednesday he was thankful to return to the board and grateful for the support of his constituents.
“On behalf of my staff and the campaign team, we thank those who saw fit to allow us to serve another term on the Board of Commissioners,” Kirby stated. “For all of those who have expressed support, given encouragement to me, spoke kind words on our behalf, placed out signs for us, made phone calls for us and donated money to us, I can only say I’m truly, truly, grateful. My heart is just … words won’t express how thankful I am to those people.”
In the same breath, he credited opponent Pearsall for running a positive campaign.
“Earlier this morning I received a call from Eugene Pearsall. It was a pleasant conversation. The call from Eugene meant the world to me. I thanked him for running a clean and dignified campaign and he, in turn, thanked me for the manner in which I conducted my campaign,” said Kirby. “It was a hard-fought battle that we both worked very hard on.”
Both candidates worked the polls from the day early voting began on April 24 up through the entirety of Tuesday’s Election Day.
“He was a formidable adversary to say the least,” Kirby remarked.
When the last of the results were in, Kirby had won eight of the district’s 12 precincts, including Rowan, Newton Grove, Keener, Clinton West, Clinton Southwest, Clinton Northeast, Clinton East and Clinton Central, where the incumbent received his largest boost with an 83-17 victory. Pearsall took four precincts in Giddensville, Turkey, Westbrook and Kitty Fork.
Elected to the board in 2010, Kirby said he sought a second term in order to continue to be a voice for the people of District 5, while working to promote government efficiency, cutting waste and creating revenue, all while keeping county coffers and taxpayers, notably the people of District 5, in mind.
He said he spoke about that shared aim with Pearsall Wednesday morning.
“We spoke about our common goal of improving the lives of the citizens of District 5 and creating a better Sampson County,” the commissioner remarked. “He offered his support to me and once again he voiced his dedication to serving the citizens of our district as well as the citizens of Sampson County.”
A Clinton High School alum, Kirby attended Wake Forest University on a full athletic scholarship, graduating in 1980 before going on to graduate from Campbell University School of Law. A past president of the Sampson County Bar, as well as a member of the N.C. Bar Association and the N.C. Black Lawyers Association, Kirby is a longtime practicing attorney at Kirby Law Firm in downtown Clinton.
Many of his staff and others pitched in to help with his campaign. He said he was indebted to them, just as he was to those who cast their vote for him. The campaign was never about one person.
“This campaign has never been about Albert Kirby or Eugene Pearsall,” the former said. “There are issues facing our district and our county that are much bigger than either man. I’m prepared to go forth and do my part to address the current concerns of the people.”
He pointed to the “huge budgetary challenges” confronting Sampson County and the need to generate revenue to deliver services and prevent tax increases. Kirby said that job continues today — and it is one he is humbled to be able to fulfill for District 5.
“As we say that,” he noted, “we know it’s going to be a difficult challenge.”
Even though Kirby ultimately ran away with District 5, winning by 271 votes, there could have been serious problems had the race been closer as there was a ballot mishap at one of the precincts, Sampson Board of Elections officials said Wednesday.
Longtime Board of Elections director Sylvia Thornton, assisting with the elections process this week, said some were believed to have received the wrong ballots.
“We’re not really sure what happened,” she said. “It looks like some ballots were not passed out appropriately. We’re in the process of unpacking everything and we’ll be checking the ATVs (authorization to vote forms) so we can compare which ballot was given.”
While the mistake is nothing at all to sneeze at, and the extent of the incident is not yet known, Thornton pointed out that “way less than 100 votes” were affected as a result.
“It was not enough to affect the outcome of the race,” Thornton attested. “Had it have been a closer race, it would have had a huge effect on the outcome.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121. Follow us on twitter @SampsonInd.