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Newcomer Is Top Vote-getter, Incumbents Prevail In City Council Race

By Johanna F. Still, posted Nov 3, 2021
In the 2021 Wilmington City Council race, all incumbents seeking re-election secured their seats and will be joined by a newcomer, who earned the most votes among council members. (File photo)
A freshman politician and all incumbents who sought re-election appear to have secured seats in the Wilmington City Council race Tuesday, should current election results hold.  

Newcomer Luke Waddell scored the most votes out of the eight candidates vying for the three open seats. Results aren’t final until the New Hanover County Board of Elections certifies them next week. 

After a close call in the last municipal election in 2019, Democrat Bill Saffo handily defeated fellow Democrat Harper Peterson by a nearly 28% margin. The city’s longest-serving mayor picked up an eighth term after campaigning on the latest projects he’s helped usher through, namely the Live Oak Bank Pavilion at Riverfront Park and reshaping the new Land Development Code, which takes effect Dec. 1.  

Tuesday’s race was a redo of the 2007 mayoral ticket, when Peterson first faced Saffo, vying for his old job back. Peterson was a one-term mayor in 2001; he lost re-election bids to Spence Broadhurst in 2003 and 2005.  

The mayor’s 2007 win over Peterson was his first elected term at the city’s helm. Saffo was first appointed in 2006 to replace Broadhurst, who stepped down for job duties in Greensboro heading up SunTrust Bank; Broadhurst has since returned to the area with First National Bank and now chairs the New Hanover Community Endowment Inc.  

Peterson served as a senator for District 9 in 2018 in a tight race before Sen. Michael Lee earned his old seat back in 2020. In his latest mayoral bid, Peterson ran ads vowing to fix out-of-control development and collected 7,267 votes to Saffo’s 12,927.  

Longtime Republican Councilman Charlie Rivenbark will pick up a sixth term and Democrat Clifford Barnett has earned a second. Collectively, Saffo, Rivenbark and Barnett have served 42 years on city council.  

Though the incumbents held their place, there will be a fresh face on the dais: Waddell. Despite being new to the political scene, the Republican scooped up the most votes out of all city council candidates, at 9,806.  

As CEO of Cadence Realty, Waddell will add to the council’s already deep ties to the real estate and development industry. He was sworn in to the New Hanover County Zoning Board of Adjustment in December 2020.  

Waddell’s top priority on the campaign trail was stopping violent crime and enhancing the marketing of the city’s current successes in high-paying industries including healthcare, education and research and technology.  

Half a percentage point behind Waddell came Councilman Rivenbark, the city’s longest-serving politician. Rivenbark is senior vice president of Cape Fear Commercial, with expertise in brokerage and development services. 

Barnett, who earned the third-most votes, is a minister with a career spent in public education.

"I am elated to have the privilege to serve," the councilman said Wednesday afternoon. "I’m humbled that people would have the confidence to vote me in."

He said he plans to focus on afforable housing, parterships with organizations and businesses, and infrastructure during the next four years. After serving through hurricanes and a pandemic, he hopes for an uneventful term, but recognizes that's unlikely. "That’s the neat thing about our city," he said. "Not only do we bounce back, we bounce back and forward."

Former Councilman Paul Lawler was 242 votes shy of Barnett; his fourth-place finish was reminiscent of the last municipal race, when Lawler fell just five votes behind Councilman Neil Anderson, who snagged the last seat.   

Behind Lawler in votes were newcomers Jonathan Uzcategui, Phillip White, Angie Ulmer and JB Brookins. 

Though municipal elections are nonpartisan, this year’s slate means the political balance on the council will remain unchanged. Kevin O’ Grady, a Democrat, did not seek re-election. 
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