York County Councilman Joe Cox sees himself as the pacifier who helped bring a turbulent council together and the straight talker who got things done that others couldn't.
"I have to be aggressive," he said. "I don't have time for political correctness. I will fight for my district. I will get things done."
But his District 3 opponent, York Mayor Eddie Lee, paints a different portrait of Cox: a divisive bully whose decisions have hurt the county.
"District 3 is not united," said Lee, a 55-year-old Democrat who hopes to unseat the incumbent Republican in next week's election. "District 3 has been broken up into competing interests. ... Right now, it's city versus country."
Never miss a local story.
Lee places much of the blame for the division on Cox's plan to build more fire substations in the western half of the county. District 3 includes York, Sharon, Hickory Grove, Smyrna and McConnells.
Cox, 44, contends the substations are needed to provide faster emergency response and lower insurance rates for those living more than five miles from a fire station.
Cox also fought against a 2007 deal between the city of York and the county in which the county agreed to pay York for city firefighters to handle calls outside city limits. He said the deal took money away from rural fire departments.
Lee claims Cox was "highly critical" of the York Fire Department during that debate. He calls the substation program "unnecessary."
"I would never have created the division between the fire departments, rural and city," Lee said. "That was a big mistake. It was almost done in a playful way. And I don't think government is a plaything."
Cox questions Lee's judgment. The one-term incumbent vehemently disagrees with Lee's criticism of the council recently passing a $45 million bond.
The bond money will pay for projects such as building a prison and road construction. Some of those projects were included in a 2006 proposal that was rejected by voters.
"It wasn't dire," Lee said of the bond. "Seventy percent of the voters in York County said, 'We don't think we need this right now.' They still say we don't need this right now."
Cox contends the bond was necessary, and he questions Lee's grasp of the county's space needs.
"I hope that his governing skills are better if he gets elected than his ideas of what's going on in the county," Cox said. "Not only do I have problems with the prison and the jail, I have problems when you have a public defender who has 12 attorneys and he's got three of them per office and no place to do an interview. ... I've got beagles sitting in a doghouse over there (at the county animal shelter) that probably have more room than a college-educated attorney."
Lee and Cox also disagree on the council's handling of lawsuits over proposed landfills in York County.
Before lawsuits are filed, Lee said, leaders should sit down the unhappy parties and try to work things out.
"He has no concept of the lawsuits," he said of Cox. "He does not understand how much they cost or how much they will cost."
Cox remains opposed to a proposed solid waste landfill on Quarry Road.
"I never let up," Cox said. "I fought till hell froze over, and we're still fighting today. ... I feel confident, from the attorneys and some of the people that I've talked to, that we will win the case."
Lee and Cox have different goals for the county. Lee says he'll be a strong advocate for widening the S.C. 5 bypass in his district. That project was part of the 1997 "Pennies for Progress," the penny sales tax program that's supposed to pay for building roads in the county.
Funding shortfalls in the program have left numerous projects unfinished. Lee said he'll seek state and federal money to pay for the S.C. 5 bypass project.
"We paid for that road to be widened," Lee said. "It needs to be widened ASAP."
Lee also points to his experience as a reason voters should make him their councilman. As mayor of York, he said, he's worked to revitalize the downtown, filling empty stores. He promises to press the county's economic development office to recruit businesses to his district.
"I don't think they've been helpful," he said of that office. "I think they're too oriented toward Fort Mill. ... Western York County deserves its share of economic development opportunities."
Cox is running on his record as a go-getter. He said he was instrumental in moving the engineering work of the troubled Pennies program away from a private company and into the hands of county staff.
He also led the charge to pass an ordinance that penalizes those who ride ATVs on other people's land without written permission.
"I know in my heart that Mr. Lee could not have done near what I've accomplished," he said.
If re-elected, Cox said, he'll continue to push the substation program and hopes the county can develop a centralized filing system to store public documents.
Perhaps the greatest difference between Cox and Lee is how each man perceives the climate of the council, which saw so much bickering a few years ago but seems to have calmed.
"They're not working together like adults," Lee said. "And what they've done is they've kind of patched up their differences so they can get re-elected."
Cox isn't buying that explanation.
"I know I've brought civility to the table," he said. "I'm about sick of hearing people say that the County Council's not civil and it's only because we're doing an election."
County Council members serve two-year terms and are paid $15,544 annually.
Meet The District 3 candidates
• Party affiliation: Republican
• Age: 44; born March 7, 1964
• Home: Sharon
• Family: Married, one son
• Occupation: Homebuilder, owns Cox Electric and Remodeling
• Education: Graduated from A.C. Reynolds High School in Buncombe County, N.C.; studied electrical work while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard
• Political experience: Served as mayor of Sharon for five years before being elected to the York County Council in 2006; served two years on the Sharon Town Council before being elected mayor
• Party: Democrat
• Age: 55; born Sept. 24, 1953
• Home: York
• Family: Married, one daughter
• Occupation: History professor at Winthrop University
• Education: Holds a bachelor's degree in history and political science from Presbyterian College, a master's degree in history from Winthrop and a doctorate in history from the University of South Carolina
• Political experience: Served as mayor of the city of York for the past seven years; served four years on the Chester City Council