Diligence paid off for Woodson in tight race

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 10, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Paul Woodson says he worked harder during this election than any other since he first ran for City Council in 1997.
His diligence paid off.
Woodson improved his results in nine precincts from the municipal election two years ago, coming in first or second this year in 10 of 15 precincts. He won five precincts this year after winning none in 2009.
As the top vote-getter in Tuesday’s election, Woodson likely will serve as Salisbury’s next mayor. Seven-term mayor Susan Kluttz, who finished second behind Woodson by 35 votes, said she wants to continue the City Council tradition of putting the top vote-getter in the mayor’s chair and will vote for Woodson as mayor in December.
All five City Council incumbents were re-elected. Only 107 votes separated first and fourth place this year compared to 2009, when 724 votes separated the first- and fourth-place candidates.
“Overall, it’s clear that the city is happy with the incumbents, particularly that the top four vote-getters were extremely close,” said Bill Burgin, who served six terms on the City Council.
Current Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell closed a 441-vote gap she had with Kluttz in 2009, when Blackwell came in second during her initial bid for public office. This year, Kluttz got 40 more votes than Blackwell, but Woodson overtook them both in the final four precincts.
Just 75 votes separated Woodson and Blackwell.
Brian Miller came in fourth place in both 2011 and 2009 but also improved his performance at the polls. Miller finished just 32 votes behind third-place Blackwell this year, compared to a 205-vote gap behind third-place Woodson two years ago.
William “Pete” Kennedy finished fifth in both elections, 251 votes behind Miller in 2011 and 72 votes behind him in 2009.
All numbers are based on unofficial results.
Kluttz, who dominated the 2009 election by winning 10 of 13 precincts, won only three precincts this year — Franklin, West Ward III and Hatters Shop (tied with Kennedy). Woodson, Miller, Blackwell and challenger Ben Lynch each won precincts this year as well, often by only a handful of votes.
As mayor, Kluttz may have paid a higher price than other incumbents for controversial issues like Fibrant and the city-county dispute over 911 service consolidation.
“She was the lighting rod,” Burgin said. “There may be some issues that created backlash, but certainly not enough to change the make up of the Council.
“I certainly think some of those controversial issues cost her more than they cost the others.”
Woodson said advertising, hard work and luck probably all played a role in his victory.
“A lot of people have told me they feel like they want a businessman as mayor,” said Woodson, who owns Vogue Cleaners. “That’s reflected in Brian’s numbers too.”
Miller is a banker.
The city needs less regulation so businesses can open faster and easier, Woodson said. He said he plans to challenge city staff to streamline the approval process for new businesses and get rid of government red tape.
“It’s time to say, we want businesses in here, and what can we do to help you,” Woodson said. “That will be the big push I have.”
Woodson said his platform resonated with voters. His best result two years ago was a second-place finish in four precincts. This time around, Woodson was the top vote-getter in Faith, Milford Hills County, South Ward, North Ward and Milford Hills City precincts.
He came in second in Franklin, North Locke, West Ward II, West Ward I and East Ward.
He improved his performance in Milford Hills County, going from second in 2009 to first this year. In North Locke, he tied for eighth place in 2009 but came in second this year.
He jumped from fourth to second place in West Ward II, West Ward I and East Ward, and moved from fourth to third in Sumners.
A flyer put out during the campaign by a group that later registered as a political action committee may have boosted his results, Woodson said. The flyer, which was distributed across the city, endorsed Woodson, Miller and challengers Rip Kersey and Ben Lynch and said the city has too much debt.
“I think it helped some,” Woodson said. “I think a lot of people are concerned about the debt levels that government is taking on.”
Radio commercials detailing his personal history, including starting to work at age 16, helped his campaign, Woodson said. And a newspaper ad featuring his baby grandchild in a Halloween costume saying, “Don’t be afraid to vote for my granddad” was a huge success, he said.
“It took about seven minutes, and it was the best ad I’ve had in 14 years,” he said.
Woodson started his campaign earlier than usual, in August, and spent many hours attending events and talking to voters, he said.
He studied precinct returns, voter turnout and voting patterns from past elections and focused his efforts, including direct mail, in areas where he did not do well in 2009.
“This was the most scientific campaign I ever ran,” he said.
More people offered to help him than ever before, and he put out 200 yard signs, 50 or 60 more than in the past, Woodson said.
“A lot of this was running out of fear,” he said. “With Fibrant, I have been highly criticized for the last six months. All of us on the Council have.
“I was really shocked that all the incumbents got back on.”
When he left work at 6 p.m. Tuesday to watch the returns, Woodson said he told his wife he hoped he could come in third or fourth. He said he had no inkling he might win and have the opportunity to become Salisbury’s next mayor.
“I know Paul and I’ve worked with him, and he will be a great mayor,” said Burgin, who served with both Woodson and Kluttz on City Council.
Salisbury will see the end of an era if Woodson replaces Kluttz next month, Burgin said. Kluttz is the longest serving mayor in the city’s history. “She’s been fabulous,” Burgin said. “People don’t realize just how good Susan is, because she does so many things behind the scenes and off the radar.
“You don’t get credit for that when people walk into the voting booth.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.