DURHAM, N.C. – Durham County Commissioner Lewis Cheek said Thursday he will not campaign for district attorney, even though his name will appear on the ballot as a challenger to Duke lacrosse prosecutor Mike Nifong.
"The people will be able to directly state whether they are satisfied with the status quo," Cheek said. "I will not run a campaign and I will not serve as district attorney."
Cheek, 55, has said he was approached by people about running for the job because of dissatisfaction with the way Nifong, the appointed incumbent who defeated two Democratic challengers in the May primary, has handled the investigation that led to rape charges against three members of Duke University's lacrosse team.
Without a GOP candidate on the ballot, Nifong appeared set to remain in office following an uncontested general election in November. But Cheek said voters deserved another choice and allowed supporters to begin collecting signatures, finishing with well over the 6,303 required by June 30.
A Democratic trial lawyer in private practice, Cheek was a member of the Durham City Council for two terms and was mayor pro tem for one term. He was elected to the board of commissioners in 2004.
At a Thursday news conference, Cheek said he didn't feel comfortable leaving his three-year-old law firm to serve as district attorney. If he is elected, Cheek said he would not take the job, forcing Gov. Mike Easley to appoint a district attorney.
"I'm not going to personally support anybody," said Cheek, who acknowledged he would vote for himself. "I have no intentions of getting involved with anyone or for anyone."
Nifong, 55, became a focal point of the Duke lacrosse investigation shortly after a 27-year-old black student at North Carolina Central University told police she was raped and beaten by three white men at a March 13 party thrown by Duke's lacrosse team.
The prosecutor, appointed district attorney last year after nearly three decades as an assistant, initially talked openly about his investigation and granted dozens of interviews. But he later changed course and by early April had generally stopped answering questions.
A grand jury has indicted three players with rape, kidnapping and sexual offense, and attorneys for all three have strongly proclaimed their clients' innocence. A trial isn't expected before spring 2007.