On last day, commissioners race gets competitive

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, December 22, 2015

We’ve got a race, Rowan.

For weeks, Rowan County’s 2016 commissioners race looked to be the least competitive ever. Never before have incumbents remained unchallenged through the Republican primary and general election. A group of three candidates on Monday — the last day of filing for 2016 — entered the commissioners race and prevented history from happening.

Now, instead of easing to another four years, incumbent commissioners Craig Pierce and Mike Caskey must first beat Johnny Love, who came close to advancing out of the 2014 Republican primary. Winners of the Republican primary will then face Democrat Veleria Levy and Libertarian Mark Lyerly in the November 2016 general election. Two seats are up for election on the board.

Despite speculation about his intentions to run — which he fueled by pasting “Do you miss me yet?” and “2016?” on his van — former commissioners Chairman Jim Sides didn’t file for the race by Monday’s deadline.

Candidates who wish to run independent of a party need to gather the signatures of 4 percent of total registered voters in Rowan.

When they filed earlier this month, Pierce and Caskey both cited an intention to continue ongoing projects as a reason for running again. Pierce specifically mentioned county-owned water and sewer. Caskey mentioned public safety, veterans services and maintaining a positive relationship with the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education.

Pierce filed on the first day he could — Dec. 1. Caskey filed a couple days later. Until Monday, they went without challengers.

Levy was the first to challenge Pierce’s and Caskey’s candidacy. She is second vice chair of the state Democrats and a senior account executive for MedExpress/Avita Drugs. Levy was joined by a number of friends and family members, including Rowan Democratic Party Chairman Geoffrey Hoy.

After filing for commissioner, Levy said she hopes to be the voice of all Rowan residents as a county commissioner. Levy said she’s got some priorities in mind, but wants to talk to voters before finalizing her campaign platform.

“I want to develop my platform based on the people,” Levy said. “I have my plans of what I think I should focus on. However, I think it’s important, because the county is so large, to go out into the county and take some time to listen from the people then apply that to what I can do and what I can’t do based on the role of a county commissioner.”

Love filed shortly after Levy. A sheriff’s deputy, Love finished 435 votes shy of current commissioner Judy Klusman’s total in the 2014 Republican primary for county commissioner. When asked about his candidacy, Love started by mentioning the importance of economic development.

“We’ve got to get more jobs and industry in this county,” Love said. “If we do that, then we don’t have to worry about raising taxes because we can build our tax base with more employees of businesses, more houses and more people spending money. So, the more people we can bring to the county the less the tax burden is on each taxpayer.”

Love added that he focuses on facts when makings decisions and doesn’t lead with emotion.

Lyerly, who works in quality control at Mueller Systems in Cleveland, said he’s new in politics and is open to new ideas. Lyerly said he’s not set in his ways. Jobs, education and Rowan County’s prayer lawsuit are reasons Lyerly cited for his candidacy. West End Plaza, the formerly Salisbury Mall, is another matter Lyerly said he’s concerned about. He said commissioners have already spent too much money on the building and county departments don’t even have space in the facility.

“We could’ve built a new building with what we’ve spent,” he said.

For now, Love is the only challenger who will be actively campaigning. Levy and Lyerly automatically advance to the Nov. 2014 general election.

The 2016 Republican primary elections for county commissioner will be held on March 15 with other primary elections.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.