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How six Cumberland County commissioner candidates plan to come out on top in November


With the results of the March 5 primary confirmed after a recount last week, the candidates for the November race for three Cumberland County Board of Commissioners seats are finally set.

Democratic candidates Kirk deViere, Karla Icaza and incumbent Commissioner Toni Stewart will face off against Republican candidates Henry Tyson, Peter Pappas and Pavan Patel. 

CityView spoke to the candidates about their strategies for success, what they believe sets them apart from the crowd and more as they look toward November. 

Their answers are excerpted below and have been edited for brevity and clarity. Icaza did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

CITYVIEW: How do you plan to ensure you are one of the three candidates selected by voters in November?

HENRY TYSON: I think we just keep communicating to voters on the issues that are important to them. I think the March primary showed that our messaging just resonated with them very well. I think folks are looking for more government accountability and responsibility. They want to make sure that their tax dollars are being spent wisely and judiciously. They want to make sure that folks that have pressing needs — for example, our water issue in parts of our county — are being addressed. I think our messaging was really more unique than some of the others.

KIRK DEVIERE: I think, just like it was in the primary election, we’re going to continue to talk with people across the community, talk about the proven experience that I have, how I deliver results, not just promises, and that we’ll continue to put people first in our decisions. They’ll be at the point of decision and not political interest. People are interested in hearing about how are we going to get clean water for the residents across our community? How are we going to make people’s lives better and hopefully make sure they have more money in their pocket right now with where the economy is? So I think having conversations and communications with the people across this community is exactly what I will continue to do. It’s what I’ve done in previous campaigns, and it’s what I’ll do in this one. I will also add, with those conversations, listen, because it’s important that we listen to what’s important to people in our community.

PETER PAPPAS: I know I spent the least on my side with the Republican ticket, but not sure about the Democratic side. I say that to say this: Peter’s gonna make a dollar of donated money stretch to $1.50. I take it as a very humbling point when somebody gives me a dollar. Whatever I do from now till the fall is going to be very well-planned, not haphazardly spend money left and right because I realize … it’s hard to make a dollar. I don’t want to focus on money, but my success to me was I spent the least and I still got that many people to depend on me and 5,499 people voted for me. I appreciate it. One thing from now to the fall, we have to engage people where they live … What I need people to do from now to November is be aware of what’s going on, be aware of the [Board of County Commissioners]. The federal government’s in your pocket once a year on April 15. You can not love Biden or Trump or whoever, but you just write a check to them or get a refund once a year. The local government is in your pocket daily and these down-ballot races are so very important. 

PAVAN PATEL: I think if you really look at the responsibility of the Board of County Commissioners, the messaging, my objectives, my goals … I feel like what we’re objectively trying to accomplish as a campaign and in my objectives, if I am elected during the general election, would basically be working for the betterment of our community, investing in our county for the long term future.

TONI STEWART: I think that one of the important things for people to do always is be visible. You always have to be doing something ahead of time. You don’t just run and then start being visible; you gotta be out there doing stuff beforehand. For me, it’s to continue being visible. … I was showing up before I was elected the first time, and I showed up even while I was on the board. I will just continue to show up.

For the Republican candidates – you were one of three candidates endorsed by the Independent Conservative Alliance PAC, a new political action committee created by several Fayetteville-area Republicans. Do you think that endorsement helped you in the primary?

TYSON: We appreciate the fact that other former elected officials and current elected officials see that what we’re doing is trying to serve the community, and that our messaging and that the way that we’re going about that resonated with them. … With that being said, I don’t know — campaigns really can’t coordinate with PACs or other political organizations, so it’s really hard to say. I don’t know what all that group did to help promote that. 

PAPPAS: I have my own campaign to run. I appreciate any support that I can be offered … I don’t know if it did help or hinder me. The only thing they had was a couple of articles, I think … For me, being the newbie, I ran one campaign before for [Fayetteville] City Council, and here I am again. This time I asked for help, so I have help around me now, and not just trying to do it by myself. I don’t know if it helped or not.

PATEL: I believe so. The leadership of the PAC — again, as a first-time candidate, they were extremely useful in being able to reach out for guidance, whether it was just simple rules or regulation-type-things that I couldn’t get a clear answer to via research, or tips and tricks they knew. In general, there was a lot more benefit in the sense of, I know what I don’t know and I’m not afraid to ask for help. That was kind of them to really reach out and support me in that way, along with the other two candidates.

For the Democratic candidates with previous government experience: What do you think your prior experience in local government has taught you for this campaign?

DEVIERE: When I was in the General Assembly, I was in the minority party, which means a lot of times, you may not get to control what legislation moves or have a say in anything. I think one of the biggest takeaways for me was that I found a way to work across the aisle, be focused on things that were driving solutions for not just people here in Cumberland County but across our state, be willing to find common ground, and realize that everything, when you’re working towards a solution, is a give-and-take. You can take different pieces of different people’s ideas and work together to find a collective solution — one that works for everybody. It may not always be exactly what you want or exactly what that other person wants, but I think as a board, as a commission/board, we can do that. … We want people to have a good way of life right here in Cumberland County.

STEWART: When I ran before, it was during [Covid-19]. So I was very limited in what I could do. They weren’t holding any community watch meetings. People weren’t meeting. … I had to do it just from the house. I couldn’t go anywhere. They did not want us to go knocking on doors, passing out our literature. We couldn’t do anything. This is the first time as a commissioner that I’m able to actually get out there and do things.

For those who haven’t served before — how do you think your professional background makes you a better candidate?

TYSON: One of the things that they taught us in sales is that you can try traditional sales approach as a salesman, which is where you go out, you have a product, you promote that product. But our model that we used was more of what they call a counselor-salesperson approach. What that does is it involves a process where you gain rapport with your prospect, you discover what their needs are and then after you discover those needs, then you advocate a solution. … I think that training and spending 10 years in that industry as well really helped equip me to really listen more and learn more, talking to stakeholders in the community, talking to local residents and saying, ‘Hey, where are your concerns? What matters most to you?’ That’s really how we built a platform on our issues. A lot of times, a lot of political candidates start with, ‘This is what I believe,’ and I’m not saying that I changed my core beliefs based on that — but you gotta learn what issues are important to the community, not just what you perceive are important.’ … Our real estate culture that we’ve created at our firm has always been centered around, ‘Hey, yes, we’re here, we’re a for-profit business. We have to make money to survive,’ but also, ‘How can we take on the responsibility of not only in business [but] … we’re going to seek out deals that have a compelling community interest … how can we spend our time that we’re not working on making our community better and making it stronger?’ That’s kind of been my background and my experience and that’s kind of the same approach that I plan to bring if the voters will elect me as their commissioner.

PAPPAS: Anything I do in business, if I can succeed and make a couple of dollars, that’s gonna translate to somebody else. It’s kind of like all boats rise with the tide … Just [with] my business networking and people that I’ve touched through my life, I know I can help. I’ve seen people that are better probably at their day job than sitting on these commissions. It’s my hope to return some of them to their full-time jobs. They’re nice people, but who wants a nice guy in charge of a $200 million-plus budget? That concerns me.

PATEL: As a small business owner, it’s kind of a two-way street as an entrepreneur, if you will. With an entrepreneur’s mindset, you’re looking for opportunities for your business, but sometimes your back is against the corner. I feel like when we look at North Carolina as a state and the growth it’s experiencing, our county needs some entrepreneurs to bring out-of-the-box leadership. With that thought process being brought into the county commissioner board and having that entrepreneurship mindset inside the leadership team would ideally help us generate better ideas, think of new paths to move forward … As a small business owner, the primary focus is the people, right? Making money is nice, too, but your team that you build around you, they’re your backbone and support, whether it’s in a restaurant or a medical clinic or a hotel. You have to make sure that your team’s empowered, that they’re trained well, that if they need something that you’re there or they can find it … that type of leadership would resonate well in the sense of, there’s nothing that I would just strictly look at and say no to, because it goes multiple ways. Multiple points of view. There might be more than one way to approach an issue.

For those who have served in local government before, what accomplishments would you want to highlight?

DEVIERE: I spearheaded securing over $500 million in funding for Cumberland County from the state. One of the things I heard from veterans is that we need to eliminate the state income tax. I spearheaded that and negotiated to get that done at the state level so retirees do not pay any state income tax. We increased investment in clean water, so not only am I talking about what needs to happen to clean water, but actually worked on policies that affected people right here in Cumberland County as well as across the state, and drove historic investments up and down the Cape Fear River towards clean water. Locally, we talked at the county level a lot about affordable housing and homelessness and small business growth. I brought back over $6 million in funding for those specific things. The homeless day center that was built by the city and the center that is being built by the county — $1 million for each of those came from the state. That was something that I championed, as well as $1 million to go to the housing fund in the city of Fayetteville. Those are just a few examples. 

STEWART: I did a lot and I’m doing a lot with our school system. I have not been talking about it that much, but I have spent probably the last year and a half, two years, fighting for our schools. We were able to open up a food pantry at Spring Lake Middle [School]. We only had two food pantries in Cumberland County Schools; now we have three. We have Gray’s Creek High School … Alger B. Wilkins … and now Spring Lake Middle School has a food pantry. I literally just solicit people – I’m always asking people for something on social media. ‘Hey, I need food, I need diapers, I need all of this stuff for our food pantries.’ People don’t realize that. I really do a lot with the schools and showing up at the schools, because it’s so important to — we always want to cure something when we can prevent it. That’s where we start. 

Reporter Lexi Solomon can be reached at lsolomon@cityviewnc.com or 910-423-6500.

This story was made possible by contributions to CityView News Fund, a 501c3 charitable organization committed to an informed democracy.

Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, elections, voting