Mayor's contest tops races in May 6 voting

Gary B. Gray • Feb 21, 2014 at 8:43 AM

The May 6 Washington County Republican County primary qualifying deadline passed at noon Thursday, setting the field for party candidates running for elected county positions.

Two well-known personalities headline this year’s head-to-head contest for the county mayor spot. Incumbent Dan Eldridge, who is completing his first term, faces Mike Rutherford, the county’s longtime zoning administrator.

The challenger says he’s grown tired of “bickering” and “gutter politics,” and his disappointment over a lack of communication from Eldridge to other county bodies and to citizens spurred his decision to run.

Zoning administrator is just one of Rutherford’s titles.

The former county commissioner is also the county’s flood plan and stormwater administrator, chief general welfare officer, planning coordinator and building code enforcement director.

“It is important that the leadership of our government starts working in harmony and with our partners in Johnson City and Jonesborough in order to serve our fellow citizens,” Rutherford said Thursday. “That’s why I offer myself. I am the man for the times.”

Eldridge, who replaced George Jaynes as county mayor in 2010, said that when he entered the race for county mayor four years ago, it was with a strong desire to see Washington County move forward by building on its assets and resources.

“One thing I want folks to know is I’m committed to following through on the progress we’ve made in Washington County, and there’s no doubt we’ve made some progress,” he said. “We need to remain focused on the things that make Washington County better over the long term.”

All 25 County Commission seats in 10 districts are up for grabs this year.

Three notable commissioners have chosen not to run for another term: Pat Wolfe, Ken Lyon and Ethan Flynn.

Coincidentally, each cited concerns over a rift they feel has developed in which a minority of commissioners formed a voting bloc that has held back progress and clogged the lines of communication.

“The County Commission has not meshed with the county mayor,” Wolfe, a 9th District commissioner, said Monday. “I think there’s various reasons for that. I’m afraid we have commissioners that have their own agenda, and that’s overriding the overall goals of the commission. It bothers me.”

Lyon said says he no longer has the tolerance for the “rebel-rousers” who he says control the commission. Flynn said he was stepping down to concentrate on his career and family.

“It’s not because of the drama on the County Commission, though it has been disappointing,” he said.

Meanwhile, Democrat Nancy Fischman has decided to run for a commission spot this year instead of making another run at state Rep. Matthew Hill’s House seat.

She will run as an independent in the Aug. 7 county general election for one of two seats on the 5th Commission District — the district that is losing Lyon and Flynn.

Craig Ford, who serves as Jonesborough’s town operations manager and executive officer for the town’s police, fire and communications departments, will challenge incumbent Sheriff Ed Graybeal.

Ford worked for the sheriff’s office in the 1980s and 1990s under two sheriffs — Ron England and Fred Phillips — prior to being named Jonesborough’s first public safety director in 1999.

Graybeal, who is seeking a third term, has been sheriff since January 2003. He was appointed to finish Phillips’ four-year term after Phillips resigned to take a state position. He ran in the August 2004 general election, beating two challengers in the process. He was re-elected in 2006, knocking off one challenger, and then in 2010 in an unopposed campaign.

Early voting for the Republican primary begins April 16 and runs through May 1.

Republican nominees for the state primary will be determined Aug. 7, the same date on which winners will be decided in the county general election.

One current and one former Johnson City commissioner will attempt to gain seats in the state House.

Incumbent State Rep. Matthew Hill, R-7th, is being challenged by Johnson City Vice Mayor Clayton Stout, and freshman state Rep. Micah Van Huss R-6th, faces competition from former commissioner and vice mayor Phil Carriger.

The qualifying deadline for the state primary is April 3, and early voting begins July 18 and ends Aug. 2.

The general election and town of Jonesborough election is Nov. 4. The qualifying deadline for municipal candidates is Aug. 21, and early voting starts Oct. 15 and runs through Oct. 30.

For a complete list of those who qualified to run in the May 6 primary election in Washington County, see Friday's Johnson City Press.

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