Andrew Dys

McNeely may have uphill battle for council seat

YORK -- Incumbent Steve McNeely can look at Tuesday's Republican primary vote for York County Council District 3 covering western York County and say he got the most votes. Forty-one percent of the total in a three-man race. He won seven of 12 precincts.

But then he has to look at the rest of the vote that he didn't get -- 59 percent.

At least McNeely wasn't fellow incumbent Councilman Jeff Updike. Updike, representing Fort Mill and Tega Cay in District 1, got a convincing boot from newcomer Paul Lindemann in a two-person race. Only Roy Blake in District 4 won another nomination, and that was against a challenger who had been on the council 12 years with little to show for it.

"Clearly, the results show that voters in York County are frustrated and dissatisfied with the County Council," said Adolphus Belk Jr., a political science professor at Winthrop University.

If McNeely hopes to win a runoff June 27 with surviving challenger Joe Cox, who took 30 percent of the vote to edge fellow challenger Kenny Ruffin, McNeely has to either bring in new supporters or hope Ruffin's voters come to him. But Ruffin has already thrown his support behind Cox, hoping his voters follow, too.

Voters in races with incumbents usually look backward or forward, Belk said. Backward to whether the incumbent has delivered the goods, or forward to whether someone else can do better.

Almost 60 percent of people in western York County on Tuesday already said no to Steve McNeely.

Voters: 'We are neglected'

In western York County, the feeling that Rock Hill and Fort Mill get the spoils while the west gets the leftovers pervades diner chat and convenience store banter.

"The roads," said Martha Alexander of Smyrna. "Anybody who drives out here knows our roads are terrible."

People in western York County rail that they don't get like other places get, from medical care to ballfields to business development.

"The difference is Rock Hill and Fort Mill are treated like the Sheraton Hotel, and we are treated like a trailer park," said Shawn Cheek, who lives in Sharon, Cox's home base.

"People out here feel like we are neglected," said Cheek's wife, Donna.

But Karen Shoup, owner of Paradise Cafe in downtown York, McNeely's political stronghold, said York "doesn't get its fair share, either."

Cox won three of the westernmost district precincts Tuesday, and Ruffin two far western precincts.

Teresa Jones, who lives and works in Sharon, said there is a perception farther west of York that out there, people get even less.

"Sure, there is a feeling Rock Hill gets everything, but people out here also feel that York gets more than we do," Jones said.

That discontent might be what sociologists call relative deprivation, Belk said, which is a fancy way of saying voters in western York County are wondering when looking east: "Why not us?"

McNeely better hope he fares better than David Beasley or Bob Peeler in recent GOP runoffs. Neither was an incumbent, but both had long records to show off.

In the June 2002 Republican primary, Peeler was the incumbent lieutenant governor running for governor against five others. Peeler won the primary convincingly and faced runner-up Mark Sanford -- a former congressman not known for much except being a cheapskate who slept on a futon in his Washington office -- in the runoff two weeks later. Sanford whipped Peeler in the runoff by 20 points.

Then in 2004, David Beasley, former governor, was the most prominent face in a field of six candidates vying for the U.S Senate. Beasley won the primary and ended up against Jim DeMint, a congressman. DeMint trounced Beasley in the runoff.

Beasley and Peeler gained few votes, if any, in the two weeks between the primary and the runoff because they had already reached their base. After their base, there was little left. New voters didn't come out in the runoff for them, and returning voters who had voted for losers in the primary chose the new guy in the runoff.

Both Beasley and Peeler had politically maxed out. The question in 12 days is, has Steve McNeely, County Council chairman, maxed out?