Sunday, November 24, 2013

More Donations and Volunteers for the Davidson Community Garden

Good things keep happening for the Davidson Community Garden.
This past week Seasons at the Lake held it's grand opening at its new store just around the corner from the garden.  As part of the festivities the store offered to donate 20% of proceeds from all ornament sales during the event to the DCG effort.  As a sign that the garden has truly become a recognizable and integral part of the Village area, this donation truly came out of the blue.  When asked how it was decided to make this gift, owner Gary Skaggs simply said that he sees the garden every day when driving by and had noticed the regular groups of volunteers on Saturdays.  He thought this donation would be a nice way to contribute.
For the record...IT IS!!!
...and the volunteers kept coming this weekend. 
While the regular volunteer meetings officially ended November 16th, it was great to see a large group of Davidson College students out this past Saturday helping get the garden in shape for winter.  Members of the Alpha Phi Alpha service fraternity and several other students showed up to help get garden beds mulched and turned. 
Come springtime, these efforts will have the beds ready to produce again!!!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"And the survey says?" - Polling the Davidson Electorate

Public polling of our local municipal elections is a rarity.  Polling costs money and takes time - both things that are in short supply when it comes to town elections that see relatively little money raised by candidates and the core campaign period spans only about 30 days.

But what if someone was willing to take the time and do it for free?  What if the person coordinating the polling effort actually had a national reputation in the field of analyzing elections data?  What if the survey could be done with a level of scientific accuracy comparable to the national surveys we all see and hear about in the daily news?

Would it be worth it then?  Yes, absolutely!

In Davidson this election cycle, just such a survey occurred in the run up to the election.  Conducted by Assistant Professor Josh Putnam's Public Opinion class at  Davidson College, a survey was completed in the week before election day.  If you follow politics, you may have heard of Professor Putnam, he writes the Frontloading HQ blog and made a bit of a name for himself during the 2012 election cycle - being one of only 3 nationally known "pundits" to nail the Electoral College results in the election for President of the United States.

Scaling back a bit from the national stage, he and his public policy class conducted a survey during the last week of October hand delivering surveys to randomly selected registered voters, picking them back up, and then tallying the results.  Can you say labor intensive!?!?

The survey covered not only the election, but also some of the policy questions facing the town.  It was remarkably balanced in how close it came to the actual demographics of Davidson - something harder to do with a small population where small numbers can make big percentage differences.  The margin of error was +/- 6.3%.  That's a little outside the bounds of what larger surveys tend to achieve, but still close enough to allow for valuable information to be collected.  It was conducted as a survey of registered voters, not 'likely' voters.

Here are some bits gleaned from the results:
  •  Everyone says they will vote, but most still do not. - 75% of survey respondents said they planned to vote.  That meshes with everything I heard while going door-to-door where just about everyone said they would vote.  Davidson's actual voter turnout? Less than 25%.
  • People still don't like the idea of HOT Lanes on I77. - After a full year of selling the plan to expand I-77 with tolls by installing new HOT lanes, supporters failed to move the dial in their favor at all.  56% of survey respondents said they did not approve of the plan.  Survey results from the National Citizen Survey published in March of 2012 had the number opposed at 53%.  All of Davidson's incumbents supported HOT lanes.  All of the challengers opposed them to varying degrees.
  • Mayor Woods's level of support lower than his vote totals would imply. - 56% of voters approve of the way John Woods handles his job as Mayor.  While he received 95% of votes cast this election, nearly 25% voters left this race blank or wrote in another candidate on their ballot.  These poll numbers imply that a fare number of people voted for John Woods simply because he was the only name on the ballot.  Interestingly, his "approval" number in this poll comes in much closer his voter percentage in the 2011 election when he did have a challenger.  In that election he received 59.67% of the overall vote while actually losing Precinct 127.
  • The race was tight all the way to the end. - Conducted in the last week before the election, four of the candidates ultimately in the top 5 on election day were also in the top five of this poll.  Beth Cashion had the same large lead she enjoyed on election day.  However, at polling time 42% still selected "not sure" - meaning a very large percentage of people made their decisions in the last days before the election.  The below chart shows the difference in percentage of total "votes" received in the poll vs. those on election day.  As you can see a larger chunk of the undecided voters swung toward two of the challengers, Stacey Anderson and myself.  This is a common occurrence in elections where undecided voters choose at the end and go with new faces.  This swing is what pushed Stacey Anderson ahead of Connie Wessner and into the fifth and final spot.

  • Endorsements mattered. - As mentioned in the previous post, several endorsements impacted this election.  That post also mentioned the River Run "endorsement" of neighborhood candidates as the "most important".  Here's why. That endorsement came out on November 1st - after the polling data for this survey was collected.  River Run has over 750 households.  It is not hard to see that this would have some positive impact for the candidates mentioned in that endorsement - Stacey Anderson and Vince Winegardner.  With Ms Anderson having lower name recognition than Mr Winegardner (he is a former River Run POA president), she had more potential upside benefit of the endorsement email on undecided voters. Ultimately, Stacey Anderson edged out incumbent Connie Wessner by only 59 votes.  That's a margin that certainly could have come from this single endorsement in such a large neighborhood.  Causing the first incumbent to lose re-election since 1997 certainly warrants making this endorsement the "most important".  (Incidentally, I also attribute my positive swing in the final numbers to endorsements.   The last major effort of my campaign was to ensure as many people as possible knew of the endorsements I received with one final distribution of campaign literature that focused on these in large part.)
 As you can see, surveys - even in small elections - can be both informative and useful when analyzing how our elections occur and what impacts them.  They provide a window into what the public is thinking, how they receive and digest information, and what tactics work when candidates are trying to communicate.  As these results show, when done right they can also be accurate gauges of what the ultimate outcome will be.

My hope is that this type of survey continues to be done for our elections.  It would also be great if our town embraced using these tools when making large decisions - something I spoke about frequently as part of my own campaign.  Not everything can or should go to a voter referendum, but getting real and meaningful citizen input before making big decisions that impact our quality of life should be a desired goal for all of our elected officials.

To see the detailed data from this survey, click here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Endorsers and Ensorsees Everywhere this Election

Endorsements are pretty standard fare when it comes to elections, but in Davidson they tend to be mostly person to person conversations or maybe an email sent from someone to their list of close friends.  As a candidate, when it comes to getting the word out about your campaign there is nothing better than having the "neighborhood politico" put in a good word on your behalf.  While those types of endorsements certainly were a big part of the process for all candidates this year, this past election also saw several "official" endorsements from organized groups and local politicians.  That was definitely something new.

Here are the big ones.   Some of these made the news, others did not.  All of them had some impact.


The North Mecklenburg Chapter of the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) endorses candidates in the local towns every election season.  In the past, they have endorsed people of all political stripes from one end of the spectrum to the other.  This year they endorsed myself and Vince Winegardner. 

If there was anything unusual about this endorsement, it was that not a single incumbent even agreed to meet with the group.  That struck me as odd considering that their only question this season was around improving communication.  That's it.  It was in the invite, and there was not anything controversial about the interviews. Why incumbent commissioners would not want to even sit down with a group to talk about issues seems strange to me, but then again maybe that's why the only question on their list involved improved communication.

The endorsement came with some adds in local media including the Huntersville Herald, Lake Norman Citizen, and 

After the PBA endorsement which was expected.  The rest of the endorsements this season all fall into the "unprecedented" category.  That's where things get interesting.

The first one that made a big splash was the TollFreeNC/Widen I77 endorsement.  These activists have been fighting the plan to add HOT lanes to I-77.  Fortunately for us here in Davidson, the splash was mostly in Cornelius and Huntersville where the group went negative and posted signs asking voters to "fire" some candidates while posting other signs asking them to vote others into office.  In Davidson, we only got the endorsement signs. Personally, I am glad about that.

The results here were definitely a mixed bag though.  Two endorsed candidates won and two lost.  Interestingly, the two who lost were also the two who were most vocal in their opposition to HOT lanes.  The two who won included the candidate who got the most votes - Beth Cashion.  Read into that what you will, but it would seem to mean that the HOT lanes issue just did not resonate with voters as much as many people thought it would - myself included.

Then came the "politicians"...

As early voting started, former Commissioner Laurie Venzon endorsed three non-incumbent candidates.  The near immediate response was Mayor John Woods endorsing all of the incumbents. 

Mayor Woods's endorsement definitely got more attention with both and the Huntersville Herald actually publishing the Mayor's endorsement message.  But which one carried more weight? 

Beth Cashion came in a strong first.  Stacey Anderson became the first challenger to knock-off an incumbent since 1997 when she came in fifth edging out incumbent Connie Wessner.  I started with arguably the lowest name recognition and came in seventh, but only a few dozen votes behind the pack. 

All of the incumbents received less votes than they did in the last election - some received considerably less.

While not a true apples-to-apples comparison because there was one more candidate this election season, it would appear that a former commissioner's endorsement may have influenced more people than the sitting mayor's.  That says something.

Then finally, there was the "endorsement" that may have had more actual impact than any other.  On November 1st just days before the election, the River Run Property Owner's Association encouraged residents to "learn" about the two neighborhood candidates - Stacey Anderson and Vince Winegardner.  This received basically no publicity, but it made a difference.

Why was this possibly the most influential?  Find out in the next post on polling.

Signs, Endorsements, Polling and Money...Davidson elections go mainstream

Davidson's past election season went "mainstream" with many diversions from the so called "Davidson Way" resulting in a contest that was both competitive and healthy for the town.

The results?

Two new faces, Beth Cashion and Stacey Anderson, will grace the dais this coming term.  New ideas and approaches to governing will be discussed.  There will be more balance on the Board of Commissioners.  All of these things should be good for the town if handled correctly.  All of these things should help more Davidsonians feel more connected to the town.

How did we get here?  How did these "un-Davidson" campaign tactics impact how we elected our new crop of officials?

The first thing that appeared which is not something done normally here in town was the use of campaign signs.  Several candidates used them this cycle, myself included.  There were not too many of them.  They were not placed in public right of way along the roads.  They were not negative signs, or large signs, or ugly signs.

In fact, every campaign sign was placed in a yard by a candidate because the homeowner either asked for them specifically or accepted if a candidate asked.  I could have used twice as many as I purchased because that many people asked about having one in their yard.  The other candidates who used signs mentioned similar stories. 

There were also more creative signs.  I had a couple of large magnets on my truck which came in handy when I was walking neighborhoods.  Multiple people mentioned seeing them either around town or parked at the neighborhood entrance when I was going door-to-door.  Commissioner Wessner also very creatively turned her bicycle into a rolling billboard by attaching a campaign sign and then regularly parking her bike along Main Street.

Contrary to popular belief, signs apparently are not the public nuisance many believe them to be.

However, I still heard reports this season of people thinking they were somehow "divisive".  One candidate was even told that they had lost a "lot" of votes because of the use of campaign signs!?!?  (That candidate won by the way.)

Compare all that to the "Vote Yes" signs supporting the education bonds on the ballot.  Those were larger, more visible, and placed all over town (often in public right of way against town ordinance).  At the candidate forum at Town Hall, I actually helped Bill Russell of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce unload a trunk-full of them to give to Mayor Woods for distribution.

What does that tell you? 

It tells you that campaign signs are "OK" as long as they are the right signs - meaning signs supported by town hall.  Signs for non-approved/non-incumbent candidates?  Not so much.

Then there were the endorsements...

...but that's for another post.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Revolving Door Continues Turning on Charlotte Region Transportation Projects

Sad and disappointing best describes the ongoing revolving door between government and the private sector relative to the massive transportation projects impacting the North Mecklenburg region.  See previous coverage of this stomach churning phenomena reported in these pages here, here, and here.  With continued coziness between senior public officials and the consultants who are really driving these decisions, can any reasonable resident really believe they have our best interests at heart?
Here's another example from last month.   Thanks to the reader who forwarded the below tidbit from NCDOT.
Atkins, Mr Trogdon's new employer, has connections to the HOT lanes project on I-77.  Specifically, Atkins did the required environmental impact assessment.  From

"Atkins is currently working on the NEPA analysis for conversion of the existing high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes along I-77 in Mecklenburg County. Two scenarios are currently being analyzed—one is a direct conversion of the existing HOV lanes, and a second would convert the existing lanes as well as add a second HOT lane in each direction. The limits of the project are I-77 from I-277 (Brookshire Freeway) to West Catawba Avenue (Exit 28). All work will be completed in the existing right-of-way.

Atkins has provided a variety of services for this project including threatened and endangered species assessments; a community impact assessment; an environmental justice analysis, noise impact, traffic operations, and air quality analyses. Our work to-date has also included development of alternatives, preliminary roadway and hydraulic design, a review of toll operations, and public involvement support."

These assessments comprise a critical piece of the approval phase of the project.  It is also a piece that has come under scrutiny from the Southern Environmental Law Center.  This is the same organization that stalled the Monroe Bypass with legal action over that project's environmental assessment. 

One has to wonder if Atkins is beefing up its staff with a well connected employee in the event the project and their work faces a similar challenge?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Setting the stage for who'll replace Thom Tillis in NC-98

The storyline of who will replace NC Speaker, Thom Tillis, as the North Mecklenburg Representative in the General Assembly started to officially take shape this week with outgoing Cornelius mayor, Lynette Rinker (Rep), throwing her hat in the ring.  Her announcement comes in the last month before she steps down to be replaced by Mayor-elect Chuck Travis.

When Ms Rinker decided earlier this year that she would not seek re-election to the mayor's post, one of her stated reasons included plans to seek higher office.  Speculation immediately centered on the NC House 98 seat that would be vacant with fellow Cornelian, Thom Tillis, deciding to run for US Senate.  In what was surely an unintended swipe at another fellow Cornelian, NC Senator Jeff Tarte, Rinker said at the time to “As I consider other offices that are up for up for election in 2014, it just didn’t seem right to file and run for mayor if I’m looking ahead at something else.”  Rinker was elevated to mayor from commissioner when her predecessor, Jeff Tarte, decided to run for State Senate almost immediately after winning re-election as Cornelius's mayor.

How Rinker's candidacy plays with local Republicans remains to be seen.

As mayor her biggest achievement has arguably been carrying water for toll road supporters in Raleigh who want to widen I-77 with HOT lanes.  Those supporters include NC-98 current office holder, Speaker Thom Tillis. 

Back in January of this year, Rinker was fairly defensive in this video at being accused of supporting HOT lanes.  By the time spring rolled around, she had obviously changed her tune - casting the tie-breaker in a surprise vote on Cornelius's Board to officially support tolls on I-77.  Only time will tell, but this tie-breaking vote on tolls potentially puts Mayor Rinker in the same company as former Mayor Bill Thunberg of Mooresville - meaning, a mayor who cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of a highly controversial project that did not really pass the "common sense" test.   Mayor Thunberg cast the tie-breaker that effectively created the Mi-Connection cable company - a decision that has gone disastrously for the towns of Mooresville and Davidson.  We all need to hope that Mayor Rinker's tie-breaker for tolls does not lead to a similar result for the entire region.

In light of all that, another way to look at Ms Rinker's decision to not run for re-election as mayor is that she did not want to face a potentially tough re-election fight similar to what just played out in Huntersville.  In Cornelius's southern neighbor, Mayor Jill Swain, won re-election last week by a mere 27 votes after a bare-knuckle fight against toll road opponents.  With Cornelius also being a hotbed of anti-toll sentiment, running for re-election - and potentially losing - would not be a politically smart move for one angling for higher office.  Losing one office just before seeking another is not a winning strategy.  (See the results for Council/Congressional/Mayoral candidate Edwin Peacock as an example.)

Add to all of the above the fact that the battle over toll roads these past few months has in fact taken a toll on many conservative activists, and the stage is set for a closer and more interesting race than might be expected in this heavily Republican leaning district.

Enter stage left, Democrat Natasha Marcus of Davidson whose campaign sent out a press release Thursday indicating her intentions towards this open seat.

Ms Marcus has been a leading progressive activist in the North Mecklenburg area, and her home base of operation during the campaign will likely center around Davidson's Precinct 206.  The final stop of her campaign kick-off tour around the district will end at Summit Coffee on Davidson's main street with Davidson Mayor, John Woods, MCing the event. (See Davidson Village...Last Bastion for Democrats in the LKN Area. for background on this precinct.)

While any Democrat running in this district faces a steep up-hill climb, Ms Marcus will bring advantages with her.

Her leadership role in local progressive activist groups will provide a base of volunteers.  She knows the issues and will be able to capitalize on certain social issues if they enter the campaign.  For example Precinct 206, centered around Davidson College, cast more votes against Amendment 1 last year than any precinct in Mecklenburg County except for one.  Finally, she will have a solid team of people supporting her.

While I don't know Ms Marcus other than to recognize her from around Davidson - often seeing her registering voters at the farmers market, I do know some of the people who will be helping and advising in her campaign.  She will have a team that is both focused and dedicated.  Expect them to approach this effort with a steely-eyed professionalism.  Do not expect them to make any big mistakes.  They write checks.  More importantly, they know people who write checks.

Will they be able to pull it off?  Who knows?

One thing is for sure, this story is going to have a number of subplots before the curtain falls next November and the first of those subplots may very well be if/when another actor shows up to give either of these ladies a primary challenge.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Veterans Day 2013 in Davidson (Photos and Video)

Old Glory
A giant version of the Old Glory flew over Davidson's Main Street today in honor of Veteran's Day.  Here are some pictures from the event as well as video of today's guest speaker - Col. Quincy Collins of Concord. 

Col Collins spent 7 1/2 years as a POW in Vietnam including time in the infamous Hanoi Hilton.  For a brief glimpse of what that was like see this article covering one of Colonel Collins' previous speeches in Asheboro.  His rousing speech today begins a few minutes into the video.  (Apologies for the shaky camerawork and periodic background noise.)

Color Guard

Pledge of Allegiance

Link to Veterans Day Celebration Speech by Quincy Collins

Monday, November 11, 2013

Davidson's Election Results...a look at the numbers

Another election came and went this past week here in Davidson, and to say the least, it was an interesting one.  We had a real election discussing real issues.  This was not a coronation of a predetermined slate.  All of the candidates were credible, and all brought something different to the discussion.  We now have two new faces on the board, and the results of that will likely have a lasting effect on our town. 

Over the next month or so as the new Board is seated, more detailed data becomes available on who actually voted, and the town itself settles in with new leaders, we'll be doing a few post mortem stories here at aShortChronicle on what all happened this past campaign season.  I hope you find them interesting, but honestly these are as much for me as anyone else.  As one of the candidates I can truly say it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.  It was also incredibly positive even though I was not quite successful in making it to the Board.  I don't want to forget that.

So, how did this election turn out when looking at the numbers and delving deeper into them beyond just looking at who placed in the top five?  Here are some nuggets.

Who voted?

Compared to 2011, the electorate this election cycle remained amazingly stable both in total numbers of voters as well as where that turnout originated.  Some of that is good, some is still a bit disappointing.

Turnout % for precinct 206 is probably artificially low this year due to the large number of additional students who registered to vote in the Amendment 1 referendum last year.  When you take out registered voters with college addresses, voter turnout %  in Precinct 206 was almost identical to Precinct 127 - coming in at 26.9%.  Since Davidson College students almost never vote in the town's municipal elections, this more accurately reflects how the town's two precincts compared.

Davidson voters from Iredell County once again almost all stayed home.  In 2011 7 voters from the Davidson Pointe neighborhood voted.  This year only 17.  It will be interesting to watch this neighborhood in coming elections now that it is almost fully built out and actually has hundreds of voters.  If they ever decide to go to the polls, those voters could have a dramatic impact on the outcome.

How close was it?

Competitive best describes the outcome this cycle.  Only 144 votes separated 3rd through 7th place. 

I placed 7th, but considering my status as a newcomer to Davidson I am actually thrilled to have gotten this close.  953 people voted for the "new guy", and I can not thank them enough for having the confidence to cast a vote for me.  

One takeaway to glean from that goes back to the first article David Boraks wrote on when I filed to run.  (See Rick Short enters Davidson commissioner race.)  In this piece DNN clearly points out how I have challenged the Town Board on issues.  After this election, I'd say the real takeaway is that a strong plurality of voters ultimately voted for a person who has consistently challenged the Town on issues and decisions.  Combine that with the facts that another challenger, Beth Cashion, received by far the most votes and a third challenger, Stacey Anderson, was also elected, and there seems to be a clear indication that the town is willing to accept new ideas along with new faces.

Where did candidates get their votes?

The above chart shows where each candidate got their votes between precincts 127 and 206.  The totals do not include the handful of absentee or curbside votes each candidate received, so they differ slightly from the grand totals for each candidate.   Precinct 206 covers voters primarily from the Village Area and 127 covers mostly East Davidson. 

As you can see, the four incumbents skewed strongly towards the town center while the four challengers drew more evenly from both precincts.  This idea of "skew" was first covered here after the last Davidson election.  In the 2011 election, Commissioner Wessner had the largest skew.  This time she came in sixth.  The heavy dependence on one part of town was likely a contributing factor in that result.

Two other things jump out from this chart. 

The first is that Beth Cashion had by far the smallest skew and received by far the largest number of votes.  That is a very positive thing for our town to have our next Mayor Pro-Tem enjoying such a broad base of support.

The second is somewhat ironic.  This year Commissioner Fuller had the largest skew - pulling nearly two thirds of his vote total from one precinct.  It is ironic because his campaign slogan was "a single community with many neighborhoods".  It appears that campaign slogan did not quite result in the balanced election-day totals that it would imply.

Who "didn't vote"?

Certainly, and unfortunately, most people did not vote in this election.  One can take that as a sign that most people are happy with how things are running. Or, it could be taken as a sign that people just don't care.  Or even worse, they think it doesn't matter.  Regardless, more people need to go to the polls.

But what about those of us who did actually go to the polls?  How many of us did not vote for the full options on the ballot - meaning the undervote?  Who did not cast five votes in the Commissioners race or vote for Mayor Woods in the Mayor's race where he ran unopposed.

The Commissioners race had about a 20% undervote this year while Mayor Woods received a 23.4% undervote when write-ins are included.  Read into that what you will.  However, it definitely says there is a portion of the electorate who did not feel they had a full slate of options to their liking, so they chose not to vote for the candidates on the ballot. 

If anything, that means there is room for more candidates next time.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Election Day Results...Thanks for a great campaign...

"There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding and that which is lost by not trying." - Sir Francis Bacon 

Somewhere along the campaign trail I heard the above quote repeated by Larry Ellison of the Oracle Corporation.  It was in an interview with Charlie Rose.  In a nutshell, it sums up why I decided to run for office in Davidson, and it is why I will sleep very well tonight even though things did not turn out as I would have liked.

Truthfully, what would keep me up at night would be knowing I had done nothing if I had decided not to run.

I can not begin to truly thank the volunteers and supporters who helped me along the way.  Humbling is the most appropriate word to describe the experience of having people give of their time and enthusiasm in trying to help me achieve this goal.  If there is any disappointment for me, it is because we were not able to quite get over the hump, and I know they share in that disappointment.

However, there are also a number of things to be very proud of with this election, and in no way do I regret a minute of the time it took or a drop of the effort expended.  I know this town better than I ever would have otherwise, and my life is richer for the experience.

Finally, to the other candidates in the race I want to say thank you as well.  We did not agree on a number of things, but the campaigns remained civil.  That is how it should be.  We had a real honest to goodness election in Davidson, and that's great for our community.  My hope is that it sets the tone for elections to come.

Congratulations to those who were successful.  You all earned it!  To those of us who did not make it, I know we'll all continue looking for ways to help in our community.  That's a great thing too.

As for what's next for me personally?  A few days off, and then it's back to what I loved doing before this election season.  aShortChronicle will be back up and running soon enough!