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Stories and features about North Carolina candidates, voters, and the politics of the 2014 mid-term elections. Polls are open across N.C. until 7:30 p.m. on election day, November 4.

Long-Time Friends, Now Political Opponents Vie To Represent Northern Wake County

Photo of Republican John Alexander and Democrat Tom Bradshaw
Alexander for NC Senate, Tom Bradshaw for NC Senate

The friendship between Tom Bradshaw and John Alexander has lasted more than 40 years, and has revolved around YMCA gymnasiums.

Bradshaw has been dedicated to the Y since he went to youth camps growing up. And Alexander, whose father got involved decades ago, has spent much of his life at the YMCA.  

They’re both on the executive board of the YMCA of the Triangle and on other community boards.

This year they both want to be the state senator for the northern part of Wake County.

For years, they’ve worked side by side, playing key roles in an annual fundraiser for young people whose families can't pay for camps or activities, said Doug McMillan, chief executive of the YMCA of the Triangle.

"They each, like a lot of our volunteers, have an awful lot of passion for the whole community of Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill," McMillan said. "They have vision. They are strong spokespersons for the Y and all the impact of the YMCA. They are very generous in their own giving. It's just a function of leadership."

With Election Day less than a week away, a few dozen candidates are competing for the handful of General Assembly seats that are considered competitive this year. Few seats are contested in part because representative districts were drawn in 2011 to favor one party or the other.

Long-Time Friends

Few opposing candidates know each other as well as Alexander, a Republican and owner of Cardinal International Trucks in Raleigh, and Bradshaw, a Democrat and retired banker who served as mayor of Raleigh and state Secretary of Transportation in the 1970s. Bradshaw has also lobbied for educational and financial institutions.

In 2008, Alexander ran for state senate in his first bid for public office and lost against Democrat Josh Stein. Bradshaw saw Alexander at an NC State basketball game soon after that and gave Alexander some advice.

“I said, ‘John remember that most people don't win their first race, and if you like public service, I encourage you to stay behind that, but don't burn that bridge if you don't win that race,’” Bradshaw remembers. “Little did I realize that he would come back and we would be running against each other.”

The friendship is sort of on hold now as they compete for a vacant seat in the Senate. Bradshaw has sent out mailers associating Alexander with Republican votes on coal ash and fracking. The state Republican Party has in turn sent voters mail criticizing Bradshaw, calling him a “Wall Street lobbyist.”

“I have not mailed out anything negative on my opponent. He has mailed out, I think, seven fliers that have come out,” Alexander said. “What I'm doing is just running a positive campaign on my merits.”

But Bradshaw says Alexander should acknowledge that he benefits from Republican campaign advertising. And he says Alexander’s allies are the senators who adopted laws on coal ash and fracking. Alexander responds that he shouldn’t be held responsible for votes he didn’t take. He says he wishes there were no negative ads, but he can't stop his party from running them.

K-12, Vocational And Higher Education

What they seem to agree on is the importance of education. Bradshaw has a specific idea to send lawmakers back to school:

"One of the things I've put out is I hope I can encourage friends of mine in the Senate to go and spend five days in the public school system, understand what the challenges are for our  teachers."

One of Alexander’s ideas to help schools is to trim government waste and use the savings for education:

"There's a website out there called I'll say it again, This is a website that's part of the state employees, where they can go online and come up with ideas where they can save money for the state government."

Bradshaw and Alexander are running for a seat that likely won't affect the overall make-up of the Senate. Republicans have a 77-43 majority in the House and a 33-17 majority in the Senate – enough votes to reach the three-fifths threshold to override vetoes by Gov. Pat McCrory. Democrats need to gain four seats in the Senate and six in the House to break the veto-proof majority.

Bradshaw and Alexander have spoken to community groups, campaigned in early voting stations and made phone calls to raise money. Bradshaw has raised more than 640-thousand dollars. Alexander has raised more than 240-thousand.

On November 4, one of them will win. One of them will lose. Then, they say, they’ll switch back from raising cash to campaign against each other to raising money together for YMCA scholarships.

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.
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