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Seismic Shift On Wake School Board

Ron Margiotta

It was a near clean sweep for Democrats in yesterday’s Wake County School Board Election. Four of the five seats up for grabs were won outright by democrats. The fifth is not yet decided and will go to a run off, as no candidate captured 50 percent of the vote.

It was a stunning victory for supporters of the district’s old diversity policy… and a rebuke of the Republican majority that has been in charge for the last two years.

It was a contrite, somewhat stunned Ron Margiotta who addressed supporters last night, when the outcome became clear.

Ron Margiotta: "I have no regrets. What we tried to do was to bring forth and forward what we’ve been trying to do in this school system for a number of years. And it seems the people have spoken. I can accept that."

Margiotta was defeated by Democrat Susan Evans. He has spent eight years on the board, but it will be his last two, as leader of the Republican majority, that will be remembered. It was during that time he led the Board’s votes to end the old diversity-based student assignment plan - and sparked protests, marches, arrests, and a federal civil rights investigation.

After thanking those who had worked on his campaign, Margiotta regained some of the combativeness that endeared him to supporters over the years - and infuriated his opponents.

Margiotta: "I saw a campaign coming on that was extremely vicious. That was difficult to deal with. A lot of money spent on the other side. Not necessarily by the candidate, but by third and fourth parties. Whoever they may be. I mean they put a target on my back and their intention was to make change and they were able to affect it, that’s the political system."

A few miles away, on the other side of Apex, Evans’ party was - not surprisingly - more celebratory.
Evans won her first-ever elected office in a district many thought was safely republican. It was an expensive, sometimes bitter campaign that Evans seems happy to have behind her.

Susan Evans: "I was just overwhelmed with emotion almost. You know, this election isn’t about me personally, it’s about hearing from the community. And I’m just so pleased that our community has responded in a way that says we’re interested in moving forward."

Evans will move forward with fellow democrats Jim Martin, Christine Kushner, and Keith Sutton on the board. All won handily yesterday, the closest race decided by 26 points.

It was similar, although in reverse, to what happened in 2009, when Republicans won large majorities. Wake County Democratic Party chair Mack Paul believes what happened since then led to yesterday’s landslide.

Mack Paul: "The voters got something they didn’t want after that election. The injection of tea party and national politics I think turned a lot of people off."

Now all eyes – and money – will go to district three. Democrat Kevin Hill defeated three republican challengers there yesterday, but narrowly failed to get 50 percent of the vote. That means a run off next month with republican Heather Losurdo.

Back at Margiotta’s headquarters, Republican board member John Tedesco was hardly ready to give up.

John Tedesco: "And this whole county will pour every bit of effort and every bit of dollars an resources to decide how this county and school system goes. Do we go to neighborhood schools? Or do we go to bussing for quota systems?"

The first round in that battle is likely to happen this week. On Thursday, the School Board hosts its one and only public hearing on the proposed student assignment plan. It will likely be confrontational and heated – nothing new for a school board accustomed to both.

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Politics and Education. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
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