Saturday, January 21, 2012
Verne Strickland Blogmaster January 15, 2012
January 11, 2012 12:00 AM
Residents of Lenoir County who are used to having either Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., or Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., as their representative in the U.S. House might be seeing a new face in that seat next year, thanks to redistricting maps that put much of the county in a whole other district, District 7.
A Wilmington man who served as a U.S. Marine officer in Iraq is hoping that new face will be his.
“It’s a dramatically different electoral map,” said Ilario Pantano, who is running for the Republican nomination to unseat the current incumbent, Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre.
McIntyre has represented District 7 since 1997. The district has covered Wilmington and its surrounding counties — up to the outskirts of Fayetteville — during the past decade. Lenoir County was split between District 1, represented by Butterfield, and District 3, represented by Jones.
New maps approved by the state legislature last summer show District 7 spreading to the north, encompassing Johnston County, all of Sampson and Duplin counties and much of Lenoir County.
District 7 now covers nearly all of Lenoir south of U.S. 70, except around La Grange. It also takes up the territory between La Grange and Kinston, and Kinston’s northwestern neighborhoods.
“It’s the new 7th District, where I’m excited to have an opportunity to make a first impression,” Pantano said.
Pantano said he started visiting his new areas and getting involved with local Republican Party chapters as soon as the new map was drawn. He visited Kinston this week for interviews with local media and to speak to voters.
“From Queen Street (in Kinston) to Southport, businesses are shutting down,” he said. “Jobs and the economy are the No.1 concerns on people’s minds everywhere, and I think I offer some insight, having worked in the global markets, as well as a small businessperson.”
Pantano grew up in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City. He joined the Marines after graduating high school, and served during the 1991 Gulf War. He was discharged in 1993 and returned to New York, taking classes at New York University and working with the Wall Street firm of Goldman Sachs, but left in the late 1990s after becoming frustrated with the culture of Wall Street.
He started a media consulting business in New York, and was riding the subway to a business meeting on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
The train stopped, and he exited the station to the sight of the World Trade Center burning a mile away.
“It looked like a dandelion,” he said of the shower of paper floating down from the Twin Towers.
He added: “That day I came home, and I made the decision I was going back in the Marines.”
Pantano became a Marine infantry officer; by April of 2004, he was a second lieutenant leading troops in the deadly Sunni Triangle area of Iraq.
On the evening of April 15, Pantano and some of his men had detained two Iraqi men suspected of being insurgents.
He had the men search their car and told two of his Marines to stand guard. As their backs were turned, Pantano claimed the men — who were unarmed — came towards him in a threatening manner.
He shot and killed both of them, unloading two magazines of his M-16 rifle into their bodies.
“The bullets go right through the men into the car, into the trees. Into Iraq,” Pantano wrote in his 2006 memoir, “Warlord”.
Pantano found himself accused of premeditated murder, but in 2005, he was cleared of the charges.
He and his wife and their two children currently reside in Wilmington. He ran for the House in 2010, but lost to McIntyre by a slim margin.
He is currently running for the nomination against former state Sen. David Rouzer of Johnston County.
Pantano said the United States risks being in “second place” behind China by 2020, and the country must make difficult choices in the years ahead to get back on track.
“We need more broccoli, and less candy,” he said. “The easy choices have been made; now we have to do the hard things to get our country back on track.”
David Anderson can be reached at 252-559-1077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.