One of the more interesting Swansboro races in recent memory is now final. With Tuesday, Nov. 5, Election Day results tabulated, P.J. Pugliese, Frank Tursi, Laurent Meilleur and Larry Philpott will take the four seats that were up for grabs on the Swansboro Board of Commissioners.
Swansboro employs a five-commissioner system with terms staggered. Under normal circumstances, three commissioners are elected every two years with the top two finishers serving four-year terms and the candidate finishing third serving a two-year term. This allows voters to choose a majority of the board every election cycle. (The mayor serves a four-year term but only has a vote in the case of tie. The current mayor’s term ends in 2021.)
Pugliese was the top vote-getter in this year’s race with 347, followed by Tursi, who was re-elected with 342 votes. These men will serve four-year terms. Meilleur, with 281 votes, will serve a two-year term.
This year’s race included a special election, which Philpott won with 195 votes. He won a seat on the board that will run through December 2021. Phil Keagy, who currently holds the seat, was appointed in August 2018 to replace Angela Clinton who resigned eight months into her term. But Keagy was only appointed for the first half of Clinton’s four-year term. And Keagy chose not to seek election for the remainder of the term.
Tursi said this election took some unfortunate turns with factions forming. He said he was disappointed with the partisanship and politicizing of what has generally be a nonpartisan election.
“I think it is bad form,” Tursi said.
Commissioner Roy Herrick was philosophical in defeat.
“The people vote, they decide what they want,” he said. While Herrick said he has enjoyed being involved, “I’m just as happy not to be involved … I’m 81 years old.”
Pugliese said he was “cautiously optimistic” going into Election Day, but coming out on top perhaps surprised the young man.
As the son of one of the town’s most beloved citizens, Pug Pugliese, there was name recognition. P.J.’s father was the town’s police chief for decades and was also elected town commissioner.
Still, P.J. attributed his win, at least in part, to an independent approach to the election.
“I decided early on I wasn’t hitching my wagon to anyone,” Pugliese said. “I want to do my own thing.” That turned out to be a good strategy, based on the results. “The people wanted something different.”
Philpott, a former commissioner, said the primary focus of his campaign was getting his message out.
“I went out distributing my literature, sharing on … social media,” he said.
Philpott, relieved that the election has come to an end, said, “I’m tired.” And, he added, “I think everybody did a great job. They all worked very hard.”
The special election was almost missed by the Onslow County Board of Elections.
While filing for regular municipal offices began July 5 and ended July 19, the special election filing was not scheduled.
Paula Webb, assistant town manager and town clerk, said that she notified the board of elections in January of the need for the fourth seat to be filled.
Rose Whitehurst was the director of the Onslow County Board of Elections in January, but Jason Dedmond replaced her in late May. Dedmond said that he had no idea there was to be a special election in Swansboro.
By the time everything was settled, filing for the special election took place Aug. 26-30.
The regular municipal ballot included the names of six candidates, vying for three seats on the board.
The six candidates who filed were incumbents Frank Tursi and Roy Herrick. They joined Jeffrey Conaway, Laurent Meilleur, Harry “P.J.” Pugliese and Jerry Seddon.
The special election included Bradley Buckley, Larry Philpott, Jeffrey “Dusty” Rhodes and Jennifer Steele.
When Clinton, elected in the 2017 municipal election to a four-year term, resigned in August 2018 citing health reasons, Keagy was appointed with the understanding that he would serve through the 2019 election.
It was Clinton’s wish that the voters select her successor for the final two years of the term. Doing that required the special election.
Cliff Parson, the town attorney, has said Swansboro could have appointed Keagy to serve the remainder of the term, but when the board chose not to, the die was cast.
According to information provided by the board of elections, with 584 votes cast, Swansboro’s turnout for this election is 24.2 percent.
Absentee ballots will be accepted through Nov. 5 at 5 p.m., unless they are mailed. Ballots mailed by civilians must be postmarked by Nov. 5 and received by Nov. 8 at 5 p.m. Ballots mailed by military must be received by Nov. 14 at 5 p.m.
The supplemental and provisional ballot meeting will be Nov. 14 at 3 p.m.
The election canvass will be Nov. 15.
Email Jimmy Williams at email@example.com.
For the complete story on this year's municipal election, purchase a copy of the Nov. 6, 2019, Tideland News.