Of the many times since 1987 that Jimmy Sanders has run for mayor of Havelock, he has won and he has lost.
In the last race in 2009, he held back challenger Charles Barnard by just 13 votes.
Now another challenger has stepped up for the Nov. 5 election, and while Sanders wasn’t surprised by the challenge, he was surprised by the opponent, current city commissioner Will Lewis.
"I was surprised to hear who it was, yes," Sanders said last week.
Lewis filed to seek the mayor’s seat on July 16.
"The first phone call I made when I left the Board of Elections office was I called the mayor and I told him very clearly that I was not running some sort of anti-Jimmy mentality," said Lewis.
Both city natives, Sanders, 66, and Lewis, 36, sit side-by-side at Havelock Board of Commissioners meetings. They are typically cordial without as much as a hint of disagreement. The same was true Monday night when the board met for the first time since Lewis filed to challenge Sanders for mayor.
"I think that he and I are on clear terms that I am not running some sort of witch hunt campaign," Lewis said.
Lewis said it would be business as usual at city meetings.
"I did make it clear to Jimmy when we spoke that I still understood I had a job to do as a commissioner from now until December and that no matter what happens in the mayoral race that I was still intent on doing my job for the next six months," he said. "I’m not going to be running against him and belittling him from the dais every time we have a meeting.
"I think Jimmy and I have proven over the last eight years that he and I can disagree on a lot of things and still be very civil about it, and I’m hoping that there will be no difference as we go through this process of running for mayor."
Sanders said he intends to handle the challenge like any other he’s faced.
"I suppose it will be like any other election. I don’t see any difference," Sanders said. "I’m going to run the only way that I know how to run and I’m going to tell the truth as I know it and I will promise to do the best that I can do, and what Will does is up to Will. I don’t see it having any impact on what I do."
When asked before the election filing period if he would seek a third term as commissioner, Lewis said he was undecided. Less than two weeks later, he filed to run for mayor.
"I think that Jimmy and I have some completely different philosophies of leadership. I think mine fits our challenges better today," Lewis said. "I would never have dreamed of running against him as mayor four years ago because I thought that his leadership and his philosophy was what the city needed, but I think that has changed over the last four years and I think in today’s economic climate and with the challenges we’re facing as a city that my philosophy fits better than his does.
"I told Jimmy that that was the way I felt and Jimmy said that he understood. He understood what I was saying to him. I wouldn’t say that he necessarily agreed, but he certainly said that he understood where I was coming from in deciding to run for the city of Havelock.
"I do have an immense amount of respect for Jimmy Sanders and everything that he’s done for this city. He certainly has had a long time he has been working at it."
Sanders’ service to the city dates to 1974. After getting out of the Air Force, he joined the fire department, later becoming volunteer fire chief. He was elected commissioner in 1979 and then appointed mayor in 1986 when Tom Mylett resigned.
Sanders ran unopposed for mayor in 1987 but didn’t run in 1989. He ran again in 1993, winning over Don Beaver. In 1995 he won again, but in 1997 lost to George Griffin. The city charter changed the mayor’s term from two years to four in 2001. Sanders won in 2005 and 2009, and has been leading the city since.
Sanders said he has developed good relationships with several sitting legislators and believes those relationships will be key in the next couple of years.
"If you stay around long enough, you get to meet lots of folks and I think over time people know what you are as a commodity," Sanders said. "Before you create partnerships, you need to create relationships. I think that’s very true. You have to have a relationship with somebody. You’ve got to know them, trust them. Once you do that, it’s a whole lot easier to get the partnership done and get things accomplished.
"I do believe that that’s a big asset that I have. I’ve been around a long time. People know who I am and know that I’m going to be honest with them and whatever I say is what I’m going to do."
Lewis, a local contractor, came on as commissioner in 2005 and was re-elected in 2009.
"The bottom line is the mayor and I have two different philosophies about leadership for Havelock right now and I believe that my philosophy of leadership is a better fit for the challenges that we are facing, so I feel like I would be remiss if I did not offer the citizens of Havelock an opportunity to make that decision," Lewis said. "The way Jimmy and I deal with certain challenges we face and the directions that he and I want to go a lot of times diverge. He’ll want to go one direction and I think we ought to be going in another direction. I believe that I have some ideas and some ways to do things a little differently that would help the city of Havelock beneficially and I think that I would have a much better opportunity of getting those things done if I was mayor as opposed to a commissioner."
Both candidates said they wanted to enhance support for Cherry Point and Fleet Readiness Center East and bolster economic development in Havelock.
"I don’t have any intention of saying anything at all negative about the mayor," Lewis said. "I think I want to be a little more proactive about some of the issues, and a lot of times as a city, I think we’re being reactive."
Sanders said a lot has been accomplished in his time at the helm.
"Unfortunately, you’re not going to satisfy everybody," he said. "Obviously I wish that I could satisfy everybody, but I found out a long time ago that if you’re going to do things, if you’re going to make decisions, probably some people are not going to agree with you, so you know if there are things that happen in Havelock that they don’t agree with, I guess in some ways that can be a compliment. If you haven’t done anything, you can’t be held responsible for anything."
Lewis said he had disagreed with Sanders on issues behind the scenes.
"He and I are both very civil and I think a lot of times he and I leave agreeing to disagree," he said.
Sanders said Havelock has come a long way since the 1970s.
"There are just a lot of good things that have happened over the last 40 years, and contrary to what some people might think, those things don’t just happen," he said. "A lot of work goes into it by a lot of folks. I’m not trying to say that I’ve done everything right. Lord knows I haven’t, but when I’ve been wrong, I have been willing to stand up and say I’ve been wrong, but I think that overall the accomplishments of Havelock over the last 35 or 40 years are spectacular. We’ve come a long way.
"I’m just a local boy that has had the wonderful opportunity to serve the community and I would appreciate the opportunity to do it again."