Estie Pope Bennington swept out incumbent Guilford County Clerk of Court Barbara Gore Washington in Tuesday's election to become the first non-lawyer clerk in at least 50 years.
In other local races, Greensboro lawyer Ben Haines won a new District Court judgeship, and Sheriff Walter ``Sticky' Burch and District Attorney Horace M. ``Jim' Kimel Jr. held onto their offices by comfortable margins.Bennington, a Democrat from High Point, had 65,232 votes to 41,898 for Washington, in complete but unofficial returns.
Why did Washington, a Republican lawyer from Greensboro who was elected to the office in 1986, lose in a county where a lawyer traditionally has held the office of the clerk?
``For one thing, Barbara had most of the judges and most of the lawyers going against her,' said George Simkins, a Greensboro dentist who heads the local NAACP political action committee. That PAC endorsed Washington in the race.
Efforts to reach Washington for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.
The clerk's race turned from a sleepy marginal contest into one of the hottest local races, as several local attorneys and judges endorsed Bennington amid complaints of delays, foul-ups and backlogs in the paperwork the clerk's office must handle.
``The second thing is, a lot of blacks did not understand how to split the ticket,' Simkins said. The NAACP advised voters to vote a straight Democratic ticket, with the exception of the clerk's race. Doing so requires a maneuver on the voting machines that some voters did not understand, Simkins said.
Simkins believes the GOP's controversial mailings to black voters in the closing days of the election also hurt Washington's chances.
Bennington, a 20-year veteran of the clerk's office, said she won by working hard and winning votes.
``People were talking about this race,' said Bennington, who raised more than six times as much campaign money as Washington in the race. ``They were aware.'
She has earned the office, said some Greensboro lawyers who supported her.
``I'm delighted,' said Tom Kastner, a lawyer who has criticized Washington's office for delays and mistakes. ``I look forward to a new approach and hopefully a new attitude to the public service position that is the clerk's office.'
In other races, Ben Haines won a newly created District Court judgeship, the county's 10th, over Republican lawyer Joy R. Parks. Haines, a Greensboro lawyer who had made two previous attempts at a judgeship, had 57,255 votes to 43,934 votes for Parks in complete but unofficial returns.
District Attorney Jim Kimel won a second term over Republican challenger Thomas Sawyer. Kimel, a Democrat from Greensboro, had 64,883 votes to 43,214 votes for Sawyer, according to complete but unofficial returns.
``I think the vote says that the citizens are pleased with the way I've handled the office for the past four years,' Kimel said. ``Citizens opted for my experience.'
Kimel said he believes the 40 percent of the vote that went to Sawyer - a real estate lawyer who has tried few criminal cases in Superior Court - came in part from straight GOP ticket voting by Helms supporters.
Burch won a second term as Guilford County Sheriff over GOP challenger E.E. ``BJ' Barnes. Burch had 69,240 votes to 41,481 for Barnes in complete, unofficial returns.
The contest was the second time Burch, a former Greensboro police officer, squared off against Barnes, a former deputy sheriff.