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Straw poll narrows NHC Democrat’s slate for Wilmington City Council from four to three

The municipal race is, on paper, non-partisan, but that hasn’t stopped the local Democratic and Republican parties from recruiting and supporting candidates. This year, new Democratic party leadership decided to support only as many candidates as there are open seats to avoid the type of narrow loss the party suffered in 2021.

After a straw poll that concluded Monday night, the New Hanover County Democratic Party (NHCDP) is supporting three candidates for three seats on the Wilmington City Council: David Joyner, Salette Andrews, and incumbent Kevin Spears.

The poll concludes a process that includes questionnaires, a public forum in June, and internal discussions. The end result is a slate of three candidates — and the exclusion of candidate Marlowe Foster, who polled the lowest.

The results, according to NHCDP, heavily favored Joyner:

  • David Joyner 90.6%
  • Salette Andrews 75.9%
  • Kevin Spears 68.4%
  • Marlowe Foster 65.1%

NHCDP Chair Jill Hopman told WHQR the party polled about 225 members, who were each instructed to vote for their top three out of the four candidates to avoid “single-shotting.” Hopman said votes came from members representing both Wilmington and the unincorporated county; the goal was to give Wilmington municipal voters “a greater influence on the poll, since they will be actually voting for these candidates,” but also recognizing that county party members outside of the city would still be asked to volunteer and help the selected candidates.

In a statement, Foster’s campaign expressed frustration with the process, particularly the inclusion of county votes.

A spokesman for Foster wrote that they believed the poll was “not representative of Democrats in the City of Wilmington, let alone the electorate as a whole. The methodology for determining eligible voters was unorthodox, and it included a high concentration of voters outside of Wilmington city limits, giving an outsized voice to voters in places like Ogden.”

The process of narrowing the slate is a more aggressive approach than the NHCDP has taken in the past. Hopman, who was recently elected as NHCDP chair, told WHQR she knew the decision would not be popular with everyone in the party — but that it was her job to help win elections.

Hopman pointed to the 2021 election, where four Democratic candidates ran for three open seats on Wilmington City Council. Paul Lawler, then an incumbent, lost his seat by less than 250 votes — while Angie Ulmer, despite limited to no organization or fundraising, still received roughly 4,500 votes. While elections postmortems are not an exact science, Hopman said it’s not unreasonable to imagine a scenario where, with only three candidates, Lawler would have held onto his seat.

Hopman said the results of this week’s poll, especially the close gap between Foster and Spears, showed the party could have ended up in the same situation this year.

“I think that the last night's results also speak to why we needed to do this in the sense that it was close, our votes would be split, and it would dilute everybody's position in November,” Hopman said.

Foster, who officially filed with the Board of Elections last week, gave no indication that he would walk away from the campaign.

“Ultimately, Marlowe has come to this race with actionable ideas and a serious campaign strategy, and has galvanized a deep base of support, including Democrats in the city who are energized around his campaign,” a campaign spokesman said.

For her part, Hopman said she was pleased with how the process had gone, saying it was necessary for the party – but added she remained open to suggestions on how to improve it in the future.

Partisan activities notwithstanding, the city council race is technically non-partisan, so there is no primary election, and all candidates who file to run will appear on the ballot in November. That means, presumably, the NHCDP slate — Joyner, Andrews, and Spears — will appear alongside Foster, as well as Republican candidates John Lennon, Kathryn Bruner, and incumbent City Council Neil Anderson, who filed this week.

Note: This article has been updated to note Neil Anderson has filed to run for reelection.

[Disclosure notice: Benjamin Schachtman moderated the June candidates forum for the Democratic party; he has previously moderated a similar event for the Republican party.]

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.