The retirement of longtime Buncombe County Register of Deeds Otto DeBruhl has sparked a fight between the local Democratic Party’s old guard and young Turks.
When DeBruhl announced his retirement Jan. 31 after 32 years on the job, he proposed that Assistant Register of Deeds JoAnn Morgan take the helm, declaring, “There is not a more qualified register of deeds in the state of North Carolina than JoAnn.” But on Feb. 3, Drew Reisinger announced his candidacy for the job, and at this writing, local Democratic Party Chair Charles Carter seemed poised to follow suit.
The party’s Executive Committee — consisting of Buncombe County precinct chairs and vice chairs, Democratic elected officials and some state leaders — has 30 days to elect someone to serve out the remaining two years of DeBruhl’s term. If the party fails to act by March 1, however, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will appoint his replacement.
Morgan, who’s worked with DeBruhl since he first took over the office in 1979, touts her many years in the trenches as well as her overall political experience. In 1975, Morgan became the first female Democrat elected to the Asheville City Council, and she’s subsequently served as a precinct chair and as president of the Democratic Women’s Club.
“The [state] Legislature’s coming down with some new requirements for registers. A lot of changes are coming in these next two years, and I have the knowledge about that,” Morgan explains. “I’ve been working here with Otto and attending a lot of training and school. … I’m just looking to continue the wonderful office operation that Otto has started.”
But the 27-year-old Reisinger maintains that the office would benefit from a fresh perspective. “I think we need to bring the register of deeds office into the 21st century,” he asserts. “Otto and Joann have done an excellent job putting a lot more things online, but we don’t have a user-friendly website. And there’s a lot more we can do to save taxpayers money.”
Fresh from managing Patsy Keever’s successful Statehouse campaign, Reisinger (whose background is in political organizing) says he’s working to build a wave of grass-roots support.
“The goal is to talk to folks and let them know that there’s a lot we can do to modernize the register of deeds office,” he explains. “We’ve already got a good campaign of folks around us.”
Carter, meanwhile, says his decision will depend on “getting a gauge of the Executive Committee.
“I have been hearing from a lot of people who would like me to run. So if that’s the case, I’ll represent our party and represent our county and put my hat in there and do it.”
A former Buncombe County schoolteacher and state senator, Carter owns the Mountain Java coffeehouse on Merrimon Avenue.
Asked about Carter’s potential candidacy, however, Morgan suggests that it might have more to do with economic troubles than a sense of wanting to serve the public.
“I’m not looking for a job,” she asserts. “I know Charles Carter wants it very bad because of his business, and he needs an income. Drew, of course, is in the same boat.”
Both men deny the charge.
“We’re doing very well with the coffee shop,” Carter counters. “I’m not going to get into the name-calling or into trying to bring anybody down. … It has no place in this.”
And whoever ends up claiming the position, Carter stresses the importance of maintaining party unity going into the 2012 election cycle.
“We were so unified going into this last election,” he points out. “And I take a lot of pride in being part of that team.”
Reisinger agrees. “In 2012, I think this could be a prime target for the Republican Party. Dems are going to need the strongest possible ticket. I think my campaign experience would bring a lot to that ticket.”
Morgan, however, points out that they’re not the only ones who know how to win elections. “Otto’s been elected to eight terms,” she notes, adding, “I worked on all those campaigns.”
— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.