FAIRMONT — The municipal election in Fairmont pits an incumbent mayor against a former mayor who is a member of the town’s Board of Commissioners.
Charles Kemp has been campaigning relentlessly, but it was Charles Townsend who rode in the mayor’s car at the recent Fairmont Farmers Festival. Kemp is white and Townsend is black, but the race is not about race — it’s about who can sell their vision for Fairmont’s future.
Kemp and Townsend have deep ties to Fairmont and both have served as mayor and members of the Board of Commissioners. Kemp is currently a commissioner and has served on the board for 28 years and mayor for eight. Townsend is completing his first four-year term as mayor and served 12 years on the board.
Townsend is an independent insurance agent and an ordained minister. Kemp is a retired school teacher and member of the board of directors of the Robeson Community College Foundation and the Fairmont Area EMS and Rescue Squad. He is a long-time volunteer with the Border Belt Farmers Museum.
Mayor Townsend is advocating fiscal integrity and sustainable growth.
“Maintaining financial stability is my top priorities,” Townsend said. “Fairmont needs growth but manageable growth.”
The town has annexed land around exit 10 off Interstate 95 and would like to develop it. Townsend is a supporter but approaches the subject with caution.
“There is a lot opportunity going down that road and potential to make money for the town,” he said. “We’re looking at it seriously, and it will require a lot of research and effort to make sure it is manageable growth.
“It has to be profitable for Fairmont,” Townsend said.
Townsend said he would bring the community together around a brand, a community definition, “that everyone can buy into.” He believes in building a small, safe community that cares about developing its youth.
“We need community-based programs that expose young people to the job market,” Townsend said. “Our young people must compete on the world market in areas like robotics, biotechnology and the STEM fields.”
Kemp, the challenger, offers four areas that he is focused on.
“First, jobs and the economy,” he said. “In the last 17 months, I’ve organized 12 job fairs in Fairmont, and I’d like to continue that.”
While Kemp would agree the downtown has improved, he says it’s “an embarrassment” still.
“We have 62 available buildings and only 32 are rented,” Kemps said. “We need to improve Fairmont’s appearance, so that visitors see the best in us.”
Kemp points to trash, overgrown lots and dilapidated housing as areas of concern for the next mayor.
Finally, Kemp pledged he would run a transparent town government because “residents deserve to know everything, and we need to put it all on the table.
“There will be no secrets, no agendas,” Kemp said. “I’m not a politician, I’m a public servant whose job is to serve the public.”
The race to fill three seats on the Board of Commissioners is being contested by five candidates, three of them are incumbents.
The incumbents are Terry Evans, who is employed by Smithfield Foods, Felicia McLean-Kesler, who works for the state prison system and Monte McCallum, an entrepreneur.
The challengers are Stein Ellefson, a hardware store owner, and Sam Hunt, a former Fairmont police chief who is currently employed at the North Carolina Welcome Center.