(A Fort Mill Sun endorsement)
It’s been some long and hot days on the campaign trial for Debi Cloninger.
But the retired businesswoman is not above putting in the hard work as she makes the case for picking her over Patrick White for District 7 seat for York County Council. With no Democratic opposition, Tuesday’s primary will decide who takes the seat.
Debi has been knocking on doors and reminding people that she got the endorsement of Republican Congressman Ralph Norman, who called opponent Patrick White “the biggest Democrat ever” while urging a ladies group to choose her – the small business advocate and “solid conservative” – to serve District 7.
With a strong resume serving on the county’s Planning Commission, Debi has also worked with Councilman Tom Audette to limit high-density development that clogs roads and creates problems for schools.
Along her door-knocking journey, Debi is running into people who know the reputation of her opponent, the former school board chairman who raised taxes 14 out of 16 years. After Patrick left the board, taxes went down for three years in a row.
Patrick White might have more campaign signs and more money for mailers, but some local mothers say they remember how he treated them as head of the school board. That includes mothers like Katie Rose, who says her memory is long.
“No offense, but I would vote for a monkey before (Patrick) White ever got a vote from me,” Katie Rose wrote on Facebook. “The way he spoke to (parents), he should have been forced to resign immediately.”
Amee Deese agreed: “I just searched Patrick White on FB when I got yet another mailer from him. What stands out about White is how he responded to parents on FB in the past. Yet his mailer is against dirty politics.”
Background. Debi is a conservative Christian and was a franchise owner for over 45 years. She has served on a national board of directors, so she knows how to serve on a board and work with people.
She is not shy to hard work, working in an industry where workweeks were seven days and 11 hours a day. But she’s retired now, and she wants her position on the council to become her full-time job.
“So I don’t consider this just a part-time deal,” she said.
Debi ran for York County Council in 2020 after being motivated by a county council that wouldn’t listen to residents concerned about the dramatic growth and her neighborhood. In addition, she listened to Franklin Graham tell a group that Christians needed to stand up and run for office. She felt the Lord speaking to her.
Debi won the most votes that year for District 1, but because there were three people in the race and no one got more than 50 percent, a runoff was required and Tom Audette beat her by about 100 votes. Since then, Debi has teamed up with Tom to join the planning commission and limit high density development on clear cut land.
With redistricting, the District 7 seat serves Fort Mill, and her residency in Regent Park will allow her to become the first person who represents Regent Park to actually live there.
Debi takes offense to some of the things written on Patrick White’s mailers, which she calls “lies.” In one, he talks about being tired of dirty politics and negative campaigns. At a cost of about $5,000 each to send out mailers, Patrick White has spent at least $30,000 to spread his messages.
Debi has sent one, and there is nothing negative on it.
“Do you see one thing on my card front or back that is accusing him of anything or saying anything negative about him?” she asks. “No, not one thing. I have said nothing negative.
“The only thing I have brought out … is about him raising taxes 14 out of 16 times. People need to know that about him. If you call that dirty politics or negative campaigning, so be it. You have the facts.”
In another card, Patrick White spells out a plan to widen various roads and improve street maintenance funding.
“He is now Santa Claus,” Debi jokes.
Serving on the county planning commission, Debi is well aware that council people are limited in what they can do, and Patrick White’s promises are “lies” since council people only have a small fund to help with certain projects, she said.
“I am going to do everything I can for roads. But all the roads he talked about are state roads,” she said. “He is overpromising people things that he can’t do.”
Debi said it’s been shocking what she has heard while out talking to local residents. One guy hugged her and said they needed someone to run against Patrick White.
Why is she the better choice? She said Patrick White has not been in public office for four years, and his past public experience lends itself to the school side.
Debi has been working in the trenches, using her customer service skills and serving on the planning commission. She’s already at work.
“If anything, I listen to the people,” she said. “I have a heart for what is going on in the community. We have got to put a stop to this high-density development because it will continue to tear the roads up and continue to build more schools for people to move into the area.”
The primary election is June 14.