Murphy, first Republican mayor since Reconstruction, will not run for reelection
Mayor B. J. Murphy, right, filed for the office at the Lenoir County Board of Elections in 2009 with his wife Jessica. Murphy has announced he will not run for reelection.
File photo by Charles Buchanan / The Free Press
In what some consider one of the most surprising decisions of the 2013 local political season, Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy formally announced Tuesday morning he will not be running for reelection.
He said he and his wife Jessica came to the decision Saturday night on a family drive back from Durham. He also said he wanted to make the decision early, so other candidates would potentially step forward.
“Jessica and I have been praying and discussing this in depth for about eight months,” said Murphy, who is employed by LegalShield, a company that installs small business plans and employee benefits. “It just came down to us growing our business and enjoying our time with our family.”
Murphy, Kinston’s first Republican mayor since Reconstruction, will keep the Committee to Elect B.J. Murphy open, although he told The Free Press he’s not targeting any particular office now or in the immediate or longtime future.
“I’m only 32 and I have plenty of political life in me,” Murphy said. “I don’t need to run for office to prove myself to the City of Kinston; I’ve enjoyed it and I’m going to continue to give back to my community.”
The mayor’s job and two city council seats — currently held by Democrats Bobby Merritt and Robbie Swinson — are on the November ballot. All three races will be nonpartisan races for the first time.
Reaction across the area on Tuesday was that of surprise at Murphy’s decision.
“I was totally shocked when I found out,” Kinston Mayor Pro Tem and longtime Kinston City Councilman Joe Tyson said. “I immediately picked up the phone to call B.J., because I was concerned it might be something very serious with his family.
“But I also wanted to tell him he’s doing a good job. B.J. is an up-and-coming person who is known throughout the state for doing good things for this city when it comes to working with ElectriCities and the DOT.”
Kinston City Councilwoman Kelly Jarman was elected to her post in 2011 and said she had enjoyed working with Murphy. She, too, was surprised when contacted by The Free Press — who broke the news to her.
“I am totally shocked, because I’d heard he was going to run,” Jarman said. “I’ve only been on the council for a year, but in the short time I’ve been on the council, we’ve worked well together.”
Kinston City Manager Tony Sears assumed his position in November 2011 and said he appreciated the job performed by Murphy.
“I’ve enjoyed my time working with the mayor,” Sears said. “He’s a consummate professional. All elected officials bring something unique to the table and he was no different.”
Murphy, who grew up in Kinston and is a Kinston High School and ECU graduate, burst on the local scene early last decade when he became the director of Pride of Kinston, the downtown revitalization organization. In 2005, he made an unsuccessful — but surprisingly strong — run for mayor against Kinston legend O.A. “Buddy” Ritch, losing to the Democrat by less than 300 votes.
“It showed me that people were willing to accept the idea of change,” Murphy said of his close loss to Ritch. “They weren’t ready for me just yet; four years later, they were.”
Murphy won the mayor’s post in 2009 in a three-way race that pitted him again against two political veterans, former Lenoir County commissioner Earl Harper and former city council member Jimmy Cousins. At 29, he was the city’s youngest mayor in history and one of the youngest mayors in the state.
“I was a viable candidate, I knew the issues and I would argue that I was on the right side of the issues,” Murphy said. “I knocked on the right doors and raised $15,000, as opposed to $6,000 the first time I ran. I learned a valuable lesson from the first race when Mayor Ritch raised $12,000 and I only raised $6,000.”
The mayor listed a number of accomplishments during his term, including the legal fight that finally convinced the U.S. Department of Justice to allow Kinston to move from a partisan election system, where candidates run under party labels, to a nonpartisan system. That fight was actually waged by a group of residents without the city’s direct support, but Murphy advocated for a nonpartisan system in his campaign and in the years since.
Murphy also said as mayor he actively pursued regional partnerships for economic development, led efforts to challenge the status quo in the public power business, supported increased street resurfacing funding, vocalized support for pro-active community policing, and encouraged ongoing demolition and community re-development efforts.
Regardless of what happens in his future, Murphy said he is not going to disappear from the public view.
“I’m going to stay involved in the political realm,” Murphy said. “The question is going to be how public it’s going to be. I’m a very opinionated person and I don’t mind sharing those opinions, so don’t be surprised to see me writing letters to the editor, endorsing candidates or getting behind legislation, state or federal.”
Free Press Publisher and Editor Patrick Holmes contributed to this report. Bryan C. Hanks can be reached at 252-559-1074 or atBryan.Hanks@Kinston.com. Follow him on Twitter at BCHanks and check out his blog at bhanks.encblogs.com.