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Published: Monday, 9/10/2012

Ousted official starts write-in drive

Wilburn touts achievements to crowd at rally

BLADE STAFF
Steve Heer of Lambertville, left, talks with Bedford Township Supervisor Walt Wilburn. The incumbent, who lost the GOP primary, explained the procedures for voting for write-in candidates. Steve Heer of Lambertville, left, talks with Bedford Township Supervisor Walt Wilburn. The incumbent, who lost the GOP primary, explained the procedures for voting for write-in candidates.
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TEMPERANCE -- Walt Wilburn, microphone in hand, toted up his achievements in two terms as Bedford Township supervisor and laid out a challenge to nearly 100 would-be supporters at White Park.

"If you want to fight for the underdog, I need to know something," he said. "Are you with me?"

The crowd cheered. He asked a variation of the question five times. Their response didn't flag.

The White Park rally marked the start of Mr. Wilburn's write-in campaign to win re-election on the Nov. 6 ballot and keep his job.

Mr. Wilburn was defeated by 231 votes in the Aug. 7 Republican primary by Greg Stewart, the administrator in Luna Pier.

The incumbent attributed the loss to low voter turnout and the requirement that Michigan primary election voters cast ballots only for candidates of one party.

That meant Wilburn supporters who chose to vote in the three-way Democratic primary for Monroe County sheriff could not vote in the Republican primary for Bedford Township supervisor. No Democrats filed to run for supervisor.

Primary ballots were cast by 25 percent of registered voters in Bedford Township, but only 13 percent voted in the Republican supervisor's contest.

Mr. Wilburn conceded his loss on election night.

"I love Bedford Township. I love my community," Mr. Wilburn said at the White Park Rally. He added that after the loss, "I thought about going home."

He said he spent several nights in prayer, seeking guidance.

"I didn't want to be vindictive," he said. But because some supporters could not vote for him in the primary, "I don't feel [the result was] a good gauge of how people feel about me as a person or township supervisor."

Mr. Stewart said that Mr. Wilburn has every right to run as a write-in candidate.

"He's allowed to do it. I'm a big believer that an individual can act on his self-interest," Mr. Stewart said.

"I'm going to assume that I have to work just as hard or harder," Mr. Stewart said. "I'm going to continue to have a positive message and talk about Bedford. It's not about me or Walt. It's about Bedford and its future."

Mr. Stewart said he advocates using technology to have "an informed and open government." He said the township's plans should be developed through a consensus of residents and in public.

At the rally, Mr. Wilburn spoke of repairs made to roads and bridges and of bonds paid off and defended the new township hall as a "good investment."

"Granted, I didn't do this alone. I had a good board to work with both terms," he said.

At White Park, Mr. Wilburn sought more than the warm glow of constituent approval.

He was enlisting pledges of support -- and hard work. Only Mr. Stewart's name will be listed on the ballot. Mr. Wilburn told the crowd they actually have to write in his name: " 'Wilburn' counts. 'Walt' doesn't," he said, adding that the spelling of the last name doesn't have to be perfect. And then Wilburn voters have to fill in an oval on the ballot, next to the name they've written in.

Mr. Wilburn acknowledged that write-in campaigns are difficult, but said his chances are helped by being an incumbent and having name recognition.

"I cannot say loud enough how important it is: Without lots of support, we cannot succeed," he said to the crowd.



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