Berk Mounts Drive to Run for District Attorney
District Attorney Maureen Krueger, appointed last year as the county's first DA, could have opposition in November.
But that depends on whether an effort by Tony Berk to get his name on the ballot succeeds or fails.
He is running as an unaffiliated candidate and will have to obtain signatures of 4 percent of the county's registered voters just to put his name on the ballot.
Krueger, who is a Republican, so far has no opposition from either political party.
"I believe there are about 56,000 voters," Berk said in a telephone interview. "I'll need 2,300 or more."
He has to run a nonpartisan campaign, since a candidate must have been a registered party member at least 90 days before filing, he said. It is something he thinks district attorneys ought to be anyway.
"In New York -- where I was a prosecutor for 20 years -- district attorneys are allowed virtually no political activity," Berk said. "It took pressure off us, being nonpolitical, so it just didn't feel like anything I should do. A bill will probably be passed this year making DA races nonpartisan, as judges are. It will not affect November, but I did not think it an urgent point to join a party. I am just as comfortable going by petition. It is probably the best way to get to know my own community."
The principle of nonpartisanship is a healthy one, Berk said.
"Nobody wants to know how party affiliation would affect cases," he said. "We don't want public suspicion about our courts being controlled on a Democratic or Republican party basis. At times, I have been a member of each party, but found I always voted as unaffiliated; so that's how I am registered."
Berk thinks there ought always to be more than one choice on a ballot.
"Having one candidate is not an election, to me," Berk said. "There has got to be a choice. More importantly in North Carolina, because here the DA picks the cases that go before a judge. People can't complain if they had a choice at the polls and they voted."
He said he will not base his campaign on any criticism of Krueger, but primarily relies on his long years fighting as a prosecutor.
"I think more than 30 years' experience screening cases, teaching, prosecuting, does give me an advantage," Berk said. "Things aren't that different up north. It certainly helps me in Robeson County."
Berk spent four years as a senior assistant district attorney in Moore, Randolph and Montgomery Counties, and 21 years earlier in Westchester County N.Y. He is in his eighth year as senior assistant district attorney in Robeson County. That county is not like Moore, he said.
"The caseload is a big difference," Berk said. "In Robeson, an assistant can carry as big a caseload as the whole office up here. Right now, I carry about 800 -- it averages between 500 and 700, fluctuates in any county. I think we move cases at about the same rate. In Robeson, there are more violent crimes, so a much higher proportion of jail defendants facing trial."
If Berk does get his name on the ballot, he will face a vigorous opponent.
"I intend to fight hard to keep doing this work," Krueger said. "I will run a tough but fair campaign. I am not sure Mr. Berk knows what he wants to do, other than get a job here in Moore County. He asked me for a job last year, but I had no openings. Several times he asked me to support him for a judicial appointment. If he just wants to be DA, why doesn't he run down in Robeson County?"
Krueger has strong support in law enforcement.
"I think the lady that is in there ought to be kept there," said Sheriff Lane Carter. "She is doing an outstanding job, and we need her to continue. Maureen responded to the needs of the law enforcement community. Since she has been DA, she has made an effort to work closely to reduce our jail population. That directly affects this office, and she has done an excellent job."
Berk insists he has no complaints about Krueger's effectiveness.
"Without criticizing Maureen, I think I have more experience and would do it better," he said. "The experience was very varied: trial work and outside-trial work.
Berk and his wife, Marlene, have been married for 27 years. They have two children: Sarah, now at the University of North Carolina, and Ben Berk, who attends Pinecrest High School.
Since moving to Southern Pines to serve as a Moore County Assistant District Attorney in 1996, Berk's community life included helping coach the highly successful Pinecrest debate team and its mock trial team. He has also been involved with community theater, youth soccer and volunteering.
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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