Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears ditches GOP

aspecht@newsobserver.comMay 9, 2014 

  • Political affiliations of Wake County mayors

    Wake County’s 12 municipalities have an equal number of Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated mayors.

    Apex: Bill Sutton, unaffiliated

    Cary: Harold Weinbrecht, Democrat

    Fuquay-Varina: John Byrne, Democrat

    Garner: Ronnie Williams, Democrat

    Holly Springs: Dick Sears, unaffiliated

    Knightdale: Russell Killen, unaffiliated

    Morrisville: Mark Stohlman, Republican

    Raleigh: Nancy McFarlane, unaffiliated

    Rolesville: Frank Eagles, Republican

    Wake Forest: Vivian Jones, Republican

    Wendell: Tim Hinnant, Republican

    Zebulon: Bob Matheny, Democrat

— One word is noticeably absent on Dick Sears’ new voter registration card: Republican.

Sears, the mayor of Holly Springs since 2001, says he changed his party affiliation from Republican to unaffiliated shortly after he won re-election in November.

He didn’t announce the change publicly because he says it doesn’t reflect a change in his political philosophy, but in his feelings toward some GOP leaders.

Sears began contemplating his affiliation after the Wake County Republican Party endorsed his opponent, Vinnie DeBenedetto, in the last election.

Sears said Wake GOP chairwoman Donna Williams never gave him “a good reason” why the group snubbed him.

Williams declined to elaborate on why the party didn’t endorse Sears.

“We’re not picking on him,” she said. “And he knows this.”

A committee of about 70 people voted on endorsements after evaluating whether candidates “lived up to the core values of the Republican party,” she said.

Sears thinks he may have lost the party’s support because he hasn’t “toed the party line” when it comes to supporting local Republican candidates or Republican-authored legislation in the General Assembly.

He has previously endorsed Democratic mayors such as Harold Weinbrecht in Cary and John Byrne in Fuquay-Varina. He considers them friends.

He also opposes several Republican initiatives, such as the bill that eliminated extra pay for teachers with advanced degrees.

“I’m not pleased with how we’re treating teachers and I’m not pleased at all with the solutions they’ve come up with on the Jordan Lake issue,” Sears said recently.

The lake doesn’t serve Holly Springs, but it is the main source of drinking water for much of western Wake County.

Republicans in the General Assembly recently tabled a plan to reduce algae by requiring buffers upstream. Instead, they’re crafting a plan to install machines that circulate the water while on the lake.

“That just doesn’t cut it for me,” Sears said. “Without cleaning the river upstream, I don’t understand how you’re going to keep the lakes clean.”

Sears also opposes House Bill 150, a bill authored by Republicans that would strip local governments of their power to regulate residential housing based on design or appearance.

The longtime mayor doesn’t seek platforms to share his views. He didn’t speak at a Wake County Mayors Association meeting held last year to oppose HB 150, and he doesn’t broach the topics during Town Council meetings.

But Sears, 74, doesn’t hide his views.

He said some Holly Springs residents have told him they worry ditching the party will hurt his ability to get help the town needs from the Republican-controlled state legislature.

Holly Springs, one of the fastest-growing towns in North Carolina, is hoping the state will pitch in about $500,000 to help pay for $1.6 million in upgrades to the intersection of Avent Ferry Road and the N.C. 55 Bypass.

Avent Ferry, which is under state jurisdiction, carries about 21,000 vehicles per day although it was built to withstand only 14,000 per day.

Former Apex mayor Keith Weatherly, now a deputy secretary for the state Department of Transportation, said he doesn’t think politicians and bureaucrats care too much about political affiliation.

“In most cases when you’re dealing with a town, we likely wouldn’t be concerned or even know a mayor’s affiliation,” he said. “It doesn’t play into our decision-making.”

Weatherly, a Republican and a friend of Rep. Skip Stam of Apex, said his party affiliation wasn’t an issue in dealing with both Republican and Democrat-led legislatures.

“It never hurt, I don’t think,” he said “But it helped maybe once or twice.”

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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