Thursday, 15 July 2021 19:02

Hutchinson enters Rockingham mayoral race

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John Hutchinson files to run for Rockingham mayor Thursday afternoon at the Richmond County Board of Elections. John Hutchinson files to run for Rockingham mayor Thursday afternoon at the Richmond County Board of Elections. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — After more than 15 years on the City Council, John Hutchinson said “I’m ready” to run for mayor.

With his two younger children Alex and Eve in tow, Hutchinson walked into the Richmond County Board of Elections office Thursday to enter the Rockingham mayoral race.

Hutchinson recalled the timing wasn’t right in 2013 — serving as mayor pro tem — when former mayor Gene McLaurin was elected to the N.C. Senate.

His two sons, John Patrick and Alex, were both under the age of 5 and Eve was on the way.

“At that point … I didn’t feel like I could give the city what it needed in a good mayor,” he said. “That would not have been fair to the citizens and it would have been hard on the family.”

But now, he added, “it’s a different time, different circumstances.”

Born and raised in Rockingham, Hutchinson was first appointed in 2005 to fill an unexpired term on the council.

Hutchinson is also the owner of Great Falls Wealth Management, past president of the Rockingham Downtown Corporation, and a local historian.

He said it was a difficult decision to make because the council “works so well together.”

That stability, Hutchinson added, allows the city to partner with other organizations, like the Cole Foundation, to tackle large projects.

And it’s that stability he plans to build upon.

There are a lot of residents who want to do positive things for the community and Hutchinson said he wants to “capture that energy” and “help Rockingham grow.”

Hutchinson acknowledged the local negativity, with people complaining how there’s “nothing to do.”

“I think a lot of that comes from a lack of understanding about who we are as a community,” he said. “But I think if you create a sense of place, you can begin to give people something to latch onto and understand about where they live and maybe feel better about it.”

The longtime councilman said there are ways to “bring people together” and showcase local businesses, that aren’t city functions but encouraged by the local government, in addition to promoting Rockingham’s natural and historic resources.

One example he mentioned is the creation of a music festival honoring bluesman Blind Boy Fuller, who was born in Anson County but raised in Richmond County.

Hutchinson said he has been friends with current Mayor Steve Morris for a long time and doesn’t see the municipal election as a competition — just two people vying for the same position.

Morris filed for reelection on July 2.

“I’ve got nothing but respect for him,” Hutchinson said about Morris. “I’m going to be very positive in the way I campaign."

The cooperation among the council members “needs to continue, regardless of the outcome (of the election),” Hutchinson said.

Morris told the RO Thursday afternoon that he had not yet heard the news of Hutchinson’s filing.

“It’s certainly his prerogative,” Morris said. “(Hutchinson has) voted in favor of almost everything we’ve done … so I can’t imagine what he would like to change.”

The former owner of Helms Jewelers, Morris served on the City Council for four years in the late ‘70s and decided not to run again. He rejoined the council in 2000 and was appointed mayor in 2013, a post he has held since.

“I think I’ve done a good enough job and my record speaks for itself,” Morris said. “Hopefully people will want me back.”

In recent years, the city has helped several businesses locate downtown or fix their facades with low-interest loans and Morris said the city “will continue to do that” if he’s reelected.

Morris added that there’s a lot of property that still needs to be developed, including the old Food King building on East Washington Street. He said there has been interest in turning that into a tap room featuring craft beers from across the state.

The city also took the lead in the creation of a Rockingham campus for Richmond Community College (the main campus is in Hamlet), and Morris hopes to lure another restaurant downtown.

City Council members Anne Edwards, Gene Willard and Denise Sullivan have all filed with no competition.

The top two vote-getters in the Rockingham election will have a four-year term and the third-highest will serve a two-year term. The mayoral position is also a two-year term.

Elections Director Connie Kelly said no one else filed on Thursday.

There are three municipal leaders in two towns who will have four hours Friday to sign up before filing ends at noon if they want to retain their seats: Hoffman Councilman John Taylor and Ellerbe Commissioners Archie Robinson and John Sears Jr.

All other council members from Hoffman — Ricardo “Ricky” Anderson, Daniel Kelly and Rory K. Jones and Cynthia Nothcutt — filed within the first six days, as did Mayor Tommy Hart.

On Wednesday, Kyonna Jones filed to run for a Hoffman Town Council seat.

All seats in Hoffman are up for reelection, as that town has two-year, non-staggered terms.

Elsie Freeman and Jean Fletcher also filed Wednesday to retain their seats on the Ellerbe Board of Commissioners, and two newcomers — Thomas R. Grooms and Bennett Hawks — are also vying for a seat on that board.

Ellerbe Mayor Fred Cloninger filed on Tuesday.

In Hamlet, Mayor Bill Bayless and councilmen Jesse McQueen and Eddie Martin have also filed with no competition.

The elections for Rockingham, Hamlet, Ellerbe and Hoffman will be Nov. 2.

In Dobbins Heights, which will hold its election Oct. 5, three candidates have filed for two seats on the Town Council — sitting members Councilwoman Angeline David and Mayor Pro Tem Tyré Holloway, as well as former town clerk Mary Magee.

Filing fees are as follows:

  • $30 - Hamlet mayor
  • $10 - Rockingham mayor, Rockingham City Council, Hamlet City Council, Ellerbe Mayor, Ellerbe Town Commission
  • $5 - Dobbins Height Town Council, Hoffman mayor, Hoffman City Council

 CORRECTION: Mayor Steve Morris filed on July 2. 7-15-21 8:34 p.m.

Last modified on Thursday, 15 July 2021 20:34