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After nearly two decades, Superior Court Judge Milton F. “Toby” Fitch Jr. hopes to switch seats from behind the bench to the state Senate.
Fitch retired from his long-held post Friday and filed to run for the N.C. Senate District 4 seat, which covers Wilson, Edgecombe and Halifax counties. He will face O.D. Sykes in the 2018 Democratic primary. Sykes, a Weldon resident, filed to run for the seat on Tuesday.
Fitch, who has served as Superior Court judge for 16 years, will turn 72 — the mandatory retirement age for judges — in October.
“I’m not ready to be put on a shelf and dusted off, so I’m going to offer myself to continue my service to the people ... in the capacity of state senator,” Fitch told The Wilson Times. “And I would hope with my experience and my ability to be able to cross the aisle, that I would be able to make some things happen in eastern North Carolina as well as across the state.”
The newly redrawn Senate District 4 encompasses Wilson, Edgecombe and Halifax counties. Fitch said he felt a continued sense of duty and service to the people in those counties and the state. And he belies he’s well-suited and qualified for the job.
“I’ve had the privilege to hold court in many counties of our state,” Fitch said. “I am very proud, humbled and feel honored and privileged to have been chose by the voters of Edgecombe and Wilson counties to be your judge since Dec. 30, 2001.”
Fitch was surrounded by family, lifelong friends and colleagues Friday when he headed into the Wilson County Board of Elections office.
“He’s a servant at first of the people,” said the Rev. Thomas Walker, who has pastored Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Rocky Mount for more than four decades. “He loves people. He can’t help himself. And I know at this juncture when he goes to serve at the Senate, he will have people at heart.”
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, who has been Fitch’s lifelong friend, said he is a natural leader, community oriented and well-grounded.
“He knows the people and the people know him,” said Butterfield, D-Wilson. “They know he has a commitment to empowering rural communities. He has served the past 30 years in elective office with distinction and great effectiveness.”
Butterfield said he supports Fitch’s candidacy.
Fitch is no stranger to the North Carolina General Assembly. Prior to his judgeship which began in 2001, Fitch served nine terms in the N.C. House representing Wilson and Edgecombe counties.
He was also the first African-American in the state of North Carolina to preside over the House, the first majority whip and the first African-American to be elected House majority leader. Fitch was a founding member of the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus.
He said he was proud of the many accomplishments lawmakers achieved during his 16 years in the General Assembly.
“Our Democratic majority when I was the majority leader focused on bringing people together, not tearing our state apart,” Fitch said. “We focused on making North Carolina a place to be proud of as we traveled the nation and the world, not like what has happened since 2011, where we are continually shamed nationally for shortsighted action and small-minded thoughts.”
‘WE CAN AND WE WILL DO BETTER’
Fitch, who was born in raised in Wilson, said eastern North Carolina is his home.
“I have been here all my life,” he said. “We have so much to be proud of here in the east. Our people are proud and hardworking, with big hearts and open minds. We have to renew the focus on ensuring that eastern North Carolina moves forward just like the rest of our state.”
If elected, Fitch said he wants to focus on new job creation; better infrastructure to attract new business and industry to “create the high-paying jobs citizens need and deserve.”
“Our rural eastern counties have been left out of the technological advancements of the urban areas of our state, and I want to focus on changing that by recruiting new industry with new 21st century goals and ideas in mind,” he said. “I want our public schools, our universities and our community colleges here in the east to broaden their base, become top-flight institutions where we can recruit world-class faculty and teachers to train our best and brightest.
He said that’s the goal of government — to help all achieve greatness in life.
Fitch said that’s not what the Republican Party has done for the last seven years.
“Folks, the North Carolina that I was born and raised in did better by its people,” he said. “We can and we will do better starting when you send me back to Raleigh to be your voice.”
He said he will make common-sense decisions that place people over politics; the economy over ego; hard work instead of hot air.
“Our goal in public service to others is to help the last, the least, the humbled and the left out,” he said. “For at some point in each of our lives, we each will have been one of those.”
Fitch, who graduated from Charles H. Darden High School in 1964, holds an undergraduate degree from N.C. Central University. He also graduated from N.C. Central University law school in 1972 and was admitted to practice law in North Carolina in 1975.