In a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, April 3, the Guilford County Board of Elections voted unanimously that there is probable cause to hold a residency hearing for Steve Buccini, the only Democratic candidate in the North Carolina House of Representatives District 59 race.
If the Elections Board determines in the upcoming hearing that Buccini in fact did not reside at 7100 Gusenbury Road in Whitsett prior to Wednesday, Feb. 28, then he would not be eligible to run for the District 59 seat in the 2018 election.
Buccini is one of three candidates in Guilford County whose residency has been challenged in the 2018 election. State Rep. Jon Hardister, who’s seeking reelection to the District 59 seat, and Senate District 27 candidate Michael Garrett, the Democrat running against incumbent state Sen. Trudy Wade in November, have also had their residency challenged.
At the April 3 meeting in the Blue Room of the Old Guilford County Court House, Ken Jacobs, a former Whitsett Town Council member who’s now the town administrator, swore to tell the truth and then testified that Buccini did not live at 7100 Gusenbury Road in Whitsett when he registered to vote and filed to run in February.
Buccini claims he rents that house, lives there and was living there in time to run for the seat.
The written challenge Jacobs filed against Buccini’s residency last month stated that, based on reports from a private investigator and Jacobs’ own checks of the residence, Buccini did not reside at the Gusenbury Road address at the time he filed to run, on Thursday, Feb. 15, nor did he live thereby the last day of filing period, Feb. 28 – the residency deadline for those who wish to run for that seat.
At the hearing, Jacobs said he filed the challenge because, as someone who had held office before, he felt it was important for a candidate running for office to actually live in the district that he or she was hoping to represent.
“I do not have a dog in this fight,” said Jacobs, who added that he was conflicted about bringing this to the attention of election officials because, if his challenge is successful, it would mean that the race wouldn’t have a candidate from each party.
Jacobs testified that he had frequently checked the house at 7100 Gusenbury Road at different hours of the day and night and had never seen anyone there or any evidence of human activity.
He said the issue showed up on his radar when he saw that Buccini had registered to run using the Gusenbury Road address in the small town. Jacobs said that seemed strange to him.
“I know most everybody in Whitsett and I know everyone on Gusenbury,” he told the elections board members who were trying to determine if there was probable cause to hold a hearing on the matter.
Jacobs said Gusenbury Road was not far from the Whitsett Town Hall and that he checked on the house at different times of the day, on weekdays and on weekends, and the residence appeared “totally uninhabited.”
Buccini was in the meeting room but Jacobs didn’t appear to know that. He said at one point that he’d never met Buccini, never seen him and wouldn’t know what he looked like if he did see him.
According to Jacobs, the mailbox at the residence was crammed full of mail and the trashcans were never put out on Mondays, the day the pickup for that house was scheduled.
Jacobs said that, when he realized what was happening, he called Hardister to ask if Hardister was aware Buccini wasn’t living in the house. Jacobs said Hardister was already very familiar with the situation. Jacobs said Hardister informed him that the North Carolina House Republican Caucus had already hired a private investigator to look into the matter.
The private investigator’s report, issued by Scott Investigative Group of Greensboro, covers the week from Wednesday, Feb. 21 through Feb. 28. It includes photos taken through the windows which show empty rooms – other than a table and chairs in the kitchen and, in the bedroom, a bare box spring and a mattress with no sheets, blankets or pillows. While the investigator didn’t find any indication of activity at the house on Gusenbury, on some nights the investigator drove to 4010 Westmount Dr. in Greensboro, Buccini’s parent’s residence, where some say Buccini still resides. On several nights, the investigator saw a red Toyota registered to Steve Buccini parked in front of the Westmount Drive house and saw activity inside that house. The report also states on several occasions that the hood of the Toyota was cold, indicating it had been there a while. Trips back over to Whitsett showed no sign of life at the Gusenbury Road house.
“Their conclusion was pretty much mine,” Jacobs said of the report. “There was no activity whatsoever.”
Jacobs added that he had spoken with residents in the neighborhood who also had seen no indication anyone lived there.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Elections Jim Kimel asked a few questions clarifying how frequently Jacobs went by the house and then asked if there was anyone else present who wished to testify. Buccini – who was with his attorney, well known Greensboro lawyer Don Vaughan – raised his hand, approached the board and swore to tell the truth.
“I just want to say that I appreciate Mr. Jacobs bringing this challenge because I do think it’s important that we abide by the rules,” he said.
Buccini didn’t say much else.
“I work a full-time job in addition to running for office, so it’s no surprise to me that I’m running around the entire county, given the size of my district, trying to meet folks and keep up my day to day work so I can afford the rent,” he said. “That’s all I have to say.”
Elections board member Kathryn Lindley said that, since this was a preliminary hearing, she didn’t have any questions. The other members also didn’t question Buccini.
The board voted unanimously that there was probable cause for the challenge and reason to hold a hearing.
When the Rhino Times asked to speak with Buccini after the preliminary hearing, Buccini said, “I’m not making any statements at this time” and walked away.