ASHEVILLE - Incumbent Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams appears to have eked out a tight win in the Democratic primary, outdistancing challenger Courtney Booth by just 155 votes, according to unofficial election results.
But, the race is eligible for a recount under North Carolina election laws, according to Buncombe County spokeswoman Lillian Govus. A candidate is eligible to call for a recount if the difference in votes is less than 1% of the total votes cast, Govus said.
Shortly after 11 p.m. Booth could not say definitively if she would request a recount.
"I have to think about everything right now, if I'm eligible," Booth said. "Right now the verdict is still out."
As of 9:40 p.m., with 80 of 80 precincts reporting, Williams had 34.78% of the vote, according to unofficial results from the Buncombe County Board of Elections, while Booth had 34.28%.
Booth is an assistant public defender. In third place was Doug Edwards, a former assistant district attorney, with 29.68% of the vote. Local attorney Joe Bowman was on the ballot but had dropped out of the race.
In vote totals, Williams tallied 10,824, Booth 10,669 and Edwards 9,235, according to unofficial election results. Govus noted that some provisional and absentee ballots are still to be counted, and the vote total will not be final and official until the canvas of May 27.
In a 9:46 p.m. phone call, Booth would only say the race "is super close" and she was consulting with election and party officials about her next step.
At 9:56 p.m., Williams issued a statement thanking his supporters for "their continued commitment to sustainable justice reform." Williams said voters wanted "diversion and second chances" for offenders, "a conviction integrity review," both of which he delivered, along with "trauma-informed victim services" and "effective, just prosecution of violent crime."
"I have provided that," Williams said. "I will continue to listen and respond to the needs of your community."
Elected District Attorney in 2014 in his first attempt at elected office, Williams was sworn into office in January 2015 and re-elected in 2018. Before becoming the top prosecutor, Williams was a public defender and a capital defender, representing defendants against murder charges.
He has weathered several controversies during his tenure, including the 2017 beating by police of African American pedestrian Johnnie Rush. Williams agreed to a "restorative justice" program for the police officer charged in the beating, Christopher Hickman, which ultimately led to a year's probation but the assault charge being dropped.
Activists criticized the handling of the case for failing to deal with harm caused by the beating, choking and shocking of Johnnie Rush by Hickman, as viewed around the world on Hickman's leaked body camera footage. The incident drew widespread condemnation and rattled the city of Asheville, particularly its Black communities.
Another case involving an APD officer and an assault on a civilian also generated controversy. Former APD officer Anthony Sorangelo was charged with simple assault after a February 2020 incident in which he struck a handcuffed, intoxicated man during an arrest on Hendersonville Road.
Sorangelo was fired in September 2020, and Williams pursued the assault case in court. But Buncombe County District Court Judge Calvin Hill dismissed the charge in February 2021, at the request of Sorangelo's attorney.
Sorangelo later sued Williams and the police chief, a case still winding its way through the judicial system, as both the DA and police chief have filed motions to have the suit dismissed.
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Born in Winston-Salem, Williams graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in English, then attended Northeastern University Law School. Williams moved to Buncombe County in 2000 and lives in Asheville.
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West Asheville resident Courtney Pinkerton, 45, said issues such as smart growth for the city, environmental efforts and women's bodily autonomy were among the top issues that encouraged her to cast her ballot. She considered Booth a standout candidate, and she was impressed with Booth's stance on abortion.
"Every ballot feels precious," Pinkerton said. "And it was very satisfying to hear that 'thunk' of my vote going in. Just gratitude."
South Asheville voter Alvin Pearson said he voted for Williams because he's done a good job and had a lot of damage to repair from previous District Attorney Ron Moore, who served for 24 years.
"He got a lot thrown in his lap, and it's going to take a little time," Pearson said.
But Monica McDaniel, another South Asheville resident, said she could not support Williams this time.
"Todd made a lot of promises for the community, and he isn't doing what he's supposed to do, I feel," McDaniel said. "He could be doing a better job."
In television ads, Edwards was critical of Williams prosecution of child sex offenders, and he said he would work to rebuild damaged relationships.
Edwards, a former assistant district attorney, was endorsed by the Police Benevolent Association, which is helping Sorangelo sue Williams.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams wins in tight race