November 08, 2012Incumbent Guilford County Board of Education member Sandra Alexander beat back a challenge by Pat Tillman, getting 52 percent of the vote, to keep her at-large seat. Tillman received 48 percent of the vote.
The Alexander-Tillman matchup is an example of why the winner of a primary against an incumbent shouldn't get too confident. In the May 8 primary, Tillman beat Alexander 41 percent to 38 percent.
Alexander, who has served one term on the school board, was a longtime teacher and administrator at NC A&T State University.
Tillman lives in Greensboro and works as an account director for Alderman Company, an advertising and marketing firm. He is also the son of NC Senate Majority Whip Jerry Tillman, who represents District 29 in Randolph County and is also a retired school administrator.
Alexander, as often happens with incumbents, underestimated Tillman, which may have been easier to do because he was one of four candidates challenging her in the primary.
Alexander bounced back from the three-point defeat in the primary to a four-point victory in the general election.
"I attribute the victory to the tremendous support that I got from so many segments of the community – the teachers, the corporate leaders, the real estate community, the Teamsters, the list just goes on and on," Alexander said. "It was overwhelming the kind of support I got from so many people. It's refreshing to see that people across the political divide can still respect hard work and commitment to children, dedication. To know that that kind of thing is still out there."
Tillman said he ran a hard race but came up a little short, but doesn't yet know what, if anything, he could have done to close the gap between himself and Alexander
"I haven't really dissected the maps and the numbers and where the precincts came in," Tillman said. "At that point we might make some sort of decision on what we could have changed. I thought we had a lot of momentum and a lot of volunteers and we had a pretty good chance. If I'd had more emphasis on High Point, perhaps. It's disappointing, but nothing to bang our heads over."
Alexander said she has goals for her second term, but isn't sure what program she would like to have approved on the first day of that term, if she could get the school board to approve it.
"It would be a tossup between the early literacy intervention initiative and the workforce development piece we're working on that would give students a high school diploma and an industry-recognized certification in one of the trades," she said. "They're both important. Of course, the literacy piece is of paramount importance because we're doing poorly there."
Tillman said there was a tipping point in the returns at which he knew he was in trouble.
"When you see over half of the precincts come in and you're 9,000 or so votes behind, you start doing the math in your head," he said. "That's when you start thinking, it's never over until it's over, but if more than half the precincts are in, you have to run the table on the remaining precincts. I've worked on enough races to know when it becomes apparent it will be hard to overcome that."
Tillman said he hopes that Alexander and the school board will begin putting the needs of children ahead of those of adults.
"I hope that she'll focus on getting their kids first and really ensure that why we do what we do is more important than what we do," he said. "I think we really need to evaluate our priorities. Sandra is a very classy lady and she's a nice lady. Maybe this race will help nudge her in that direction."
Tillman, when asked if he might show up again on the political radar, said, 'Yeah, that's quite likely.'"
The at-large seat now held by Alexander was the only school board seat contested in the general election.
In the primary, longtime southeast Guilford County activist Linda Welborn beat District 5 incumbent Paul Daniels in a blowout, getting 54 percent, to Daniels' 34 percent.
Daniels at first said he would campaign to keep his seat all the way to the general election, but on August 14 announced that he was dropping out of the race. He was not on the general election ballot.
The other school board candidates on the ballot ran unopposed and won. They were Carlvena Foster in District 1; Darlene Garrett in District 3; Rebecca Buffington, the anointed successor to school board member Kris Cooke, who did not run for reelection, in District 7; and Amos Quick, in District 9. Buffington and Welborn were the only unopposed candidates who were not already school board members.