Five proud residents sought to represent their district following a sudden vacancy on the City Council. The candidates themselves cordially concurred that the Council could not make a wrong decision no matter which direction they leaned, and the board ultimately threw its unanimous support behind Darue Bryant.
An ordained minister, Bryant said he was humbled by the selection. Along with Bryant, Barbara A. Faison, Perry Solice, Delynn Boykin-Solice and Wanda Corbett each addressed the Council during open session at the top of Tuesday’s regular meeting, all seeking the post vacated with Councilwoman Maxine Harris’ passing in February.
After all spoke, Councilman Marcus Becton made a motion to appoint Faison but the motion died for lack of a second. Councilman Neal Strickland then made a motion for Bryant, seconded by Jean Turlington. The vote came 3-0, with Becton going along with Strickland and Turlington in appointing Bryant. Councilman Steve Stefanovich was not present.
Bryant is just the second different person to hold the District 5 seat in nearly two decades.
Harris held the District 5 Council seat for almost 20 years, the first woman to serve on the Council and the first African-American to serve as mayor pro tem, a post she held since December 2001. Bryant will serve out the remainder of Harris’ term, which expires in December.
“I will try my best not to disappoint any one of you, so help me God,” the minister told a packed audience upon swearing the oath and taking his new Council seat. “These are big shoes to fill. I’m not Maxine Harris, but I’m going to do my best. I thank you Mr. Mayor and the City Council for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of this board and this city that we all so dearly love.”
Becton was subsequently elected as the city’s new mayor pro tem, also in a unanimous vote.
Prior to the proceedings, Mayor Lew Starling said the Council had the “sad task” of appointing a replacement for Harris, “who served the city so well for so many years. She was a dear friend of the city and a dear friend of mine.”
“This is a very sad occasion for me and for the Council. She was a very fine lady,” the mayor said. “She would be very proud that her district is very vigorous and we have tried to be very fair in this process.”
Starling said each of the five candidates were sent an agenda packet so they could be prepared for Tuesday’s meeting. Additionally, each was invited — and all attended — the Council’s pre-meeting dinner. Starling said he spoke to each of the five candidates privately, encouraging each of them to come forward.
“I know how this process works, because I was a part of it and everybody can’t win,” said Starling, noting his own unsuccessful bid for Council appointment some 17 years ago. “I also told the candidates that what they would be getting tonight is very short-lived.”
He explained the unexpired term expires Dec. 5 so those wishing to run for election would have to file in July for November’s election.
“I encouraged each of them, if they won, to continue — and if they lose, to run,” said Starling. “I believe that’s the way it is supposed to be.”
With that each of the five candidates spoke in the order in which they submitted their letters of interest, each explaining who they were, their background and their desire to represent their district.
“I have a strong desire to fulfill this open position that is available for District 5,” said Bryant, during his portion. “I know there are some big shoes to fill. Maxine Harris did an excellent job.”
He noted the establishment of affordable housing programs and the rehabilitation of sidewalks and ball fields, as well as various projects at the Sampson Center. Harris had a hand in all of that, he attested.
“With all that she’s done, there’s still a lot more work to do. It takes nothing away from what she has done,” Bryant said. “I’m a person who believes in rolling my sleeves up and going to go work. When I consider District 5, there is something that stands out. Even with all the progress that has been made, there’s still a lot of work due to the fact that we crime issues are prevalent there, especially with drugs.”
“The only way it is going to come to a resolution is through a community effort. That means the inhabitants of the district and law enforcement. A lot of times people try to separate the two, but it’s all one. I believe, together, we can come closer to a resolution involving the issue of crime and the drug epidemic that is plaguing that district.”
Bryant has worked on community development committees, as well as with food banks and halfway houses, attempting to assist drug addicts “who were trying to come back into society and not be misfits.” He has sought to make an impact in Clinton, where he and his family grew up.
“I believe that I can make a difference because of the fact that I’m not the status quo,” said Bryant. “I am able to identify with a lot of our younger generation and inspire them so they can have the same pride as those who came before us had in their community.”
In his letter of interest submitted last month, Bryant said he sought to “promote fresh optimism that success does not have to be outside the walls of Clinton or Sampson County.” Bryant owns two businesses in Clinton, including Wall Street Barbers at 108 Wall St., and multimedia company Kingdom Productions, at 206 E. Main St.
“As a minister, I understand moral obligation and social responsibility; therefore, I believe in taking a stand against social injustice and promoting community involvement,” he stated. “It is imperative that we invest within our community and patronize our local business.”
Bryant and his wife, Darlene, a fifth grade teacher at Sunset Elementary, have been married 20 years and have five children.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.