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Challenges mount for GOP incumbents in York Co. Council races

Several challengers plan to test the staying power of York County Council's Republican incumbents.

As of Wednesday, the council's five Republicans all will face a contested GOP primary in June.

For most challengers, economic growth is a top campaign promise in a county with high unemployment.

The current York County Council has championed economic development as its highest priority. Council members have invited state economic development officials to York County to meet with local economic boards and businesses to discuss the region's challenges.

Some council leaders have prodded county staff to be more business friendly, drawing praise from some circles and criticism from others.

At this point, it's unclear whether Democrats Chad Williams and Bump Roddey will face opposition in June.

Having already kicked off their campaigns are Rock Hill businessman Gary Williams who will oppose Chairman Britt Blackwell for District 6 (northwestern Rock Hill). In District 5, Fort Mill school board Chairman Patrick White will challenge incumbent Curwood Chappell. The seat represents a primarily rural district arcing from the rural area around McConnells to southern Rock Hill and north to east of Fort Mill.

Three others entered the fray at York County's Republican Party meeting last month, before the candidate filing period in March.

District 1: Fort Mill and Tega Cay

Fort Mill school board member and attorney Michael Johnson, 41, will challenge David Bowman, 48, owner of a wealth-management company, for the District 1 seat representing the Fort Mill and Tega Cay areas. Bowman, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, is serving his first term.

Johnson, who lives in Tega Cay and runs a private law practice in Fort Mill, said his seven years on the school board have prepared him for making policy and dealing with budgets. He also serves on boards for the American Red Cross, the Upper Palmetto YMCA, and the Fort Mill Rotary Club. He also has served in various community roles including coaching sports teams.

Johnson criticized the council for leading a "disfunctional" county, which is what he's heard from businesses and county employees, he said.

He said he's not running a campaign "against David Bowman," but added that the council needs more unity to achieve its goals. "I'll do a better job to work with other people on the council behind the scenes to gain and build that momentum."

Johnson said he'd push for a more aggressive approach in working with the state to bring businesses to York County. That approach might include council members visiting Columbia to meet with state senators and state economic development officials. He also would promote having a defined plan for targeting specific industries.

District 2: Clover and Lake Wylie

John Rinehart, 63, will challenge Bruce Henderson, 46, for District 2 representing the Clover and Lake Wylie areas. Henderson is serving his first team on the County Council and previously he served on the Clover Town Council.

Rinehart said his 36 years of running and expanding Rinehart Realty to three York County offices make him the more qualified candidate.

Rinehart lives in central York County on Lake Wylie off U.S. 274 and Allison Creek Road. He serves on the Rock Hill Economic Development Board and the Winthrop University Community Advisory Board, and he's serving his second year as chairman of ChristmasVille. In 2010, he received the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce lifetime achievement award.

"We need people on County Council with business experience," Rinehart said. "I feel like I'll be able to offer some progressive change. Voters should consider me for the position because I'm not a politician" and have "no hidden agenda," he said, focusing on his qualifications and avoiding a critique of the council's current leadership.

Rinehart said for 25 years he's been helping businesses relocate to York County, experience that will help him take a more active approach to recruiting businesses and making York County more regionally competitive.

Henderson, who has worked in sales and insurance for nearly two decades and since 1995 has run a painting, pressure washing and home repair business, said he feels he's made a positive impact on the council.

Though he's received help from former District 2 councilman Tom Smith and others, Henderson feels he's been instrumental in getting interest groups involved in a 50-acre recreation complex slated for Crowders Creek and moving the project along.

He's been a "persistent gnat to make it happen," he said. Meeting many people and helping them solve problems has been a rewarding experience for him, he said.

On economic development, Henderson said the County Council has exceeded previous efforts.

"This council here has gotten more involved with the state delegation and has a better relationship with the state delegation than councils of the past."

They're also forging regional partnerships to bring businesses to the area, he said, adding that feedback from businesses has been positive, which tells him that "good is getting done."

District 3: York and much of western York County

Former York County Councilman Joe Cox, 48, will try to regain his seat from Eric Winstead, 39, who represents District 3 covering much of western York County including the city of York.

Cox works as a superintendent in the electrical division of SRE, a construction company. He was elected mayor of Sharon for three terms, and served on the York County Council from 2006 to 2010.

Cox criticized the council for not working together and Winstead for a lack of achievement.

"I know what you can do in that office, and I haven't seen it from him," he said.

He also said customer service is a very important part of being on the council, and criticized Winstead who, he's been told, doesn't return phone calls or emails.

"If I didn't respond to something, it's because I didn't get it," said Winstead. He recently asked the county to update his contact information.

In addition to working with the state to improve economic development, Winstead said improving the county's fire service has been a major focus for him. One goal is to have land and money designated for a new training facility, a goal he feels the county is near accomplishing.

On the council's progress, Winstead said, "We've done more in a year than the previous council did in four."

Winstead, who was arrested for drunken driving in December and lost his job as a hospice chaplain, wasn't sure until recently whether he'd seek re-election. After starting a new job as a counselor at Lake View Memorial Gardens in York, where he helps clients make burial arrangements, he decided to run again.

The DUI arrest, which brought his family closer together, he said, has been "a tremendous gift."

He said he looks forward to debating his opponents in town hall meetings.

On the campaign trai

John Rinehart will formally announce his bid for the York County Council District 2 seat at noon Friday at the Rinehart Realty Lake Wylie office, 264 Latitude Lane.

York County Councilman Bump Roddey and family will host a free hotdog lunch and fundraiser to launch his 2012 campaign for District 4, representing much of southwest Rock Hill. The event will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 17 at Emmett Scott Center, 801 Crawford Road. No RSVP required.