Abortion Positions Enter District Race 5

The Charlotte Observer
Jen Pilla
Oct 26, 2000

The race to represent Mecklenburg's most patrician county commissioner district has taken on a testy tone in recent weeks.

Democrat Skip Ward has sought to make abortion - which his opponent opposes - an issue in the race, while Republican Ruth Samuelson has said she wants to focus on traditional tax-and-spend topics. Samuelson, who calls herself a "conservative realist," says she's not interested in reviving the morality debates that distracted the board in 1997. She says she would emphasize fiscal issues that face the board, which decides how to allocate millions in taxpayer dollars on parks, schools, libraries, social services and more.

"I have purposely run an above-board issues-oriented campaign," she says. "I have not tried to purposely put him on the spot."

Ward has focused on the campaign trail on her abortion beliefs.

"I have been running against a stealth campaign - someone who represents herself as mom and apple pie," said Ward. "I've tried to tell people this in a gentlemanly way, but she has staked herself out too far to the right."

Home to 28207 - the county's priciest ZIP code - District 5 includes southeast Charlotte neighborhoods such as Myers Park and Eastover. Voters in District 5 will decide which issues they think are important.

Here's a look at where the candidates stand:

Ruth Samuelson

Samuelson actually grew up in a staunch Democratic family. Her father served on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board in the 1970s and her mother is a former member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission.

Samuelson says she started voting for Republicans fairly consistently in the mid- 1980s, as she became more vocal in her pro-life beliefs and interested in philanthropy.

"I just realized that the way I thought was more like what Republicans thought," Samuelson said.

She says she's not in agreement, though, with Republicans who in 1997 cut funding for the nonprofit Arts & Science Council because some conservatives objected to an ASC-funded group staging a play with gay themes and characters. Commissioners restored funding last year.

"I'm comfortable with the level of funding for the ASC because of their commitment to arts education and free public events," said Samuelson. "I think it's unfortunate that this issue keeps coming up. We've had Republican majorities before and it wasn't an issue."

Ward questions whether Samuelson's conservative beliefs would influence her decisions about arts funding, though. She says she'd generally take a hands-off attitude.

"I'm not going to read Playbills, I'm not going to examine every project they take on," Samuelson said. "Of course, I want to know what they are doing with the county tax dollars. Even as a donor I get their annual report."

Samuelson, who lists giving advice on local and national charities as one of her hobbies, says she'd like the county to look into creating more public-private partnerships. She lauds the recent creation of "Just 1 Call," a service staffed by social workers who can direct the elderly and their caregivers to resources - both private and public - to help them.

She advocates expanding the sheriff's work release program, but also increased volunteerism by people willing to befriend or mentor both the victims and perpetrators of crimes.

Samuelson said she thinks her experience working with civic groups from Kids Voting to the Children's Theater would translate well to work as a county commissioner.

Skip Ward

Ward, who has been recruiting candidates for the local Democratic Party for years, jumped into the District 5 race after trying unsuccessfully to recruit someone else to do it.

Ward says he's troubled by Samuelson's opposition to abortion, which he says could be relevant when the county makes budget decisions about funding requests from abortion rights groups such as Planned Parenthood. County commissioners cut $25,000 in annual funding to Planned Parenthood from its multimillion-dollar budget in 1997, after the county manager said the services it was providing - health exams for teen-agers and poor women - were already being offered by county agencies.

Samuelson says her views on abortion aren't relevant in the campaign. Commissioners do not make decisions on abortion regulation, she says.

Ward thinks it is an appropriate campaign topic.

"Of course it's relevant," Ward said. "The folks who are anti-choice have a way of weaseling into everything."

Ward says as a commissioner, he would put the environment first. "Education, that's important," Ward said. "But it's not going to matter if you can't breathe the air."

Ward said he also wants to take an active role in redrawing county commissioner district lines - a job commissioners are expected to tackle next year with new census figures. He says the district lines need to more accurately reflect neighborhood districts and avoid splitting neighborhoods between districts. He says he would make neighborhood interests, rather than partisan gains, the focus of his redistricting proposals.

DISTRICT 5 voters

  • Republicans: 37,963
  • Democrats: 24,615
  • Unaffiliated: 15,577
  • Libertarian: 115
  • Reform: 2
  • Total: 78,272


  • Party: Republican.
  • Age: 40.
  • Occupation: homemaker/volunteer.
  • Elected offices held: none.
  • Family: Husband (Ken); three sons; one daughter.
  • Education: Bachelor's degree in speech communications, UNC Chapel Hill, 1981.
  • What U.S. president would you most like to have lunch with? "Lyndon Johnson, because I'm very interested in social issues, particularly charity and what happened to the philanthropy movement in America. A lot of it changed because of actions that he took in the '60s and I wanted to know if he could foresee some of the dependencies that came out of those actions. I have also read things that have said he was a fabulous politician and I'd like to talk to him about that."
  • How to contact: (704) 366-8748; e-mail rsamuelson@ratedg.com; fax (888) 375- 5475.


  • Party: Democrat.
  • Age: 50.
  • Occupation: Systems manager, insurance agency.
  • Elected offices held: none.
  • Family: Wife (Joan); one daughter; one son.
  • Education: Associate's degree, Central Piedmont Community College; attended Appalachian State University and Queens College.
  • What U.S. president would you most like to have lunch with?: Lyndon Johnson. "I recently finished reading Peter Jennings' book 'Century,' and he wrote a lot about all the changes that happened in the '60s and the different behind-the-scenes personalities, and Lyndon Johnson just seemed like such a colorful guy."
  • How to contact: (704) 529-5236; e-mail sward@carolina.rr.com.

District 5 candidates on the issues

  1. County commissioners raised taxes for the past two years, but kept the tax rate steady this year. Would you vote for a budget that increased taxes next year?
  2. Do you support the $275 million school bond referendum on the ballot this year?
  3. What new initiatives, if any, would you introduce, if elected? What issues do you want to focus on?

Ruth Samuelson

  1. No, I have concerns about the effect that high taxes have on the elderly as well as on our general business community. Compared to a lot of other places our taxes aren't exorbitant, but I don't want to see us getting any higher. There's always something more to spend money on, the question is deciding between what is good for Mecklenburg vs. what is best for Mecklenburg.
  2. 2. Yes, I was here in the early '70s when we desegregated the schools. We need to demonstrate our commitment for the whole school district. But I think the concerns of those who oppose it are reasonable. The needs are there, but we need to take a close look at how we spend the money too and hold the school system accountable.
  3. 3. I'm interested in seeing if we can make a way for the county commission to work together better and to do a little more problem solving in terms of priorities. We have limited resources and lots of programs, and we need to decide: What are our priorities? What are we doing well? What could we do better?

Skip Ward

  1. Certainly, I would make it a high priority not to. The current tax rate is about right for a county and a city our size. I have a home too. I pay taxes. But there may come a time when we decide that there's something we as a community would want to spend money on.
  2. 2. I do. It is clear that the need is really there. I have been out in these schools and looked.
  3. 3. On a 100 scale, if education was a 98, the issue of growth and the environment is a 99. We should acquire and protect as much open land left as possible. We need to be pushing the state to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. We need to make sure that we establish an ongoing dialogue with the county commissions surrounding us.

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