Dare’s political powerhouse, Marc Basnight, dies    

By on December 28, 2020

Marc Basnight (photo courtesy News & Observer)

Marc Basnight, the Manteo native who was often called the most powerful man in state politics during his 26 years in the North Carolina Senate, died on Dec. 28 at the age of 73. He retired from that body in 2011 for health reasons and had stayed out of public view in recent years.

Tributes to Basnight, a Democrat, came in from both sides of the aisle. The Dare County Democratic Party announced his passing on Facebook, noting that, “It is with great sadness that we share the news that Senator Marc Basnight passed on this afternoon. His legacy will benefit the area and the state for many years to come.”

“North Carolina lost a giant today with the passing of my friend, Senator Marc Basnight,” said the state’s Democratic Governor, Roy Cooper. “His positive influence on our public universities, transportation, environment and more will be felt for decades. A man of great power and influence, his humble, common touch made everyone he met feel special…He believed in North Carolina and its people, and our state is stronger because of him.”

“With sadness and many fond memories the Dare County Board of Commissioners and the people of Dare County remember Marc Basnight,” said Bob Woodard, the Republican Chair of the Dare Board of Commissioners, in a statement. “Marc was a true native son for Dare County who worked tirelessly for those he served in Northeastern North Carolina. I was extremely fortunate to have a special friendship with Marc. He was someone I could always turn to and I will miss his smile, his encouragement, and his passion for Dare County…I appreciate all that he has done for the people of Dare County and the State of North Carolina.”

North Carolina Republican House Speaker Tim Moore also released a statement saying, “Sen. Basnight was a leader who cared deeply about serving his constituents to make a difference in the lives of all North Carolinians. Our thoughts are with his family as they honor his memory and we remember his lasting impact on this state.”

Basnight, who owned a construction company as well as the Lone Cedar Café, was also a former chair of the Dare County Tourist Bureau. He served in the North Carolina Senate from 1985 to 2011 and was President Pro Tempore of that body from 1993 to 2011.

In recognition of his contributions to Dare County, the bridge that replaced the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge in 2019 was named after Basnight.  At the ceremony marking the opening, his daughters read a statement from Basnight, who was not in attendance, declaring that “Bridges bring people together. They never divide.”

And as many observers note, his power in state government was legendary.

Seth Effron, the opinion editor for the Capitol Broadcasting Company in Raleigh, has covered North Carolina government and politics since 1985.

In an email to the Voice, Effron wrote that, “Basnight learned from Senate power players like the late Kenneth Royall (D-Durham), consolidated his experience and alliances (particularly with the late Sen. Tony Rand) and held on to the leadership of the Senate for more than eight terms. North Carolina has a relatively weak governor and Basnight’s understanding of both the legislative process and the way the state’s administrative bureaucracy worked gave him power and influence that stretched well beyond the halls of the General Assembly.”

“He was staunchly partisan – as would be expected,” Effron continued. “While there were strong partisan lines, it was a generally collegial atmosphere – which would seem quaint in these days of hyper-partisanship where there is an iron curtain between the two-party caucuses.”

In a piece written for the Voice days after Basnight announced he was leaving the NC Senate, Russ Lay paid tribute to his ability to deliver for his constituents.

“And so, it is probably unlikely Dare County, North Carolina or the country will see the likes of a power broker in the mold of Marc Basnight anytime soon, if ever,” he wrote. “Whether you were a supporter or a political opponent, there is no denying the senator his proper place in local and state history, and with his mistakes (and we all make them), much more good accrued to this formerly isolated and economically underdeveloped area known as Dare County.”

Update: Republican Bob Steinburg, who now represents District 1 in the NC Senate, offered this statement on Basnight’s passing.

“Senator Marc Basnight was a legend in North Carolina. It is likely no one individual will ever hold the reigns of absolute power in this state like he did. He utilized his position for much good, and Eastern NC, an area often neglected in budgets in the years preceding Basnight, was now securely a big part of the biennial budget discussions and ultimate appropriations. Eastern North Carolina, and in fact the entire state, will forever be grateful to him and his family for his service.”

2012 profile of Basnight from the Coastal Review Online. Coastal Sketch: Marc Basnight, the Squire of Manteo | Coastal Review Online


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  • Joan Collins

    Very sorry to hear of his passing. I only moved to the Outer Banks a few years ago, but i have heard of his contributions. Blessings to all those who knew and loved in, and thanks to all he has done for this community.

    Monday, Dec 28 @ 6:07 pm
  • Siobhan

    A very nice man. So sad for everyone.

    Monday, Dec 28 @ 7:34 pm
  • Bonnie w.palomares

    I WAS GOOD FRIENDS WITH Mark basnight. He was a very nice person and a very good senitor.he will be greatly miss by his 2 daughter and all friends from all over the world there will never be anither mark basnight. Prayers for his family girls and all may you rip MArk

    Monday, Dec 28 @ 11:16 pm
  • Marjorie White

    I will always remember Marc Basnight as being a dedicated public servant elected to represent the First District in the NC State Senate but committed to serve the entire state of North Carolina. I cannot claim to have known him personally as so many people in Eastern North Carolina can, but he was the type of person who made you feel like you knew him personally. I first met Marc in Chapel Hill at a popular lunch spot. He recognized my boss and came over to speak with her. She introduced me and let him know I was a constituent of his from Currituck (just a lucky immigrant from Virginia not a native). He asked me about Currituck with a genuine interest and not just as a political meet and greet moment. I saw him again a year or so later and stopped by his table to say hello, expecting just a nod or greeting, but he again smiled and asked me about Currituck and apologized for not remembering my name. Marc was the same at his restaurant. It was fascinating to watch him mingle with the guests, both locals and visitors. And he treated everyone like they came for dinner every night at The Lone Cedar. After a delicious lunch one afternoon, I walked out behind a couple from somewhere else with whom Marc had chatted during a stop at their table. The woman told the cashier or hostess what a wonderful meal they had and how nice the manager was. When we got outside, I stopped the couple and told him that Marc was actually the owner and also the President Pro Tem of the NC Senate. I told her that I had always heard that he was probably the most powerful man in North Carolina. She laughed and said, “That’s the type of politician we need…someone who is humble and gracious and knows his roots.” She looked at her husband and said, “We should move here so I can have more of his fried oysters and vote for him!” And she was right. Not only did Marc serve his county, district and state so honorably, his restaurant still has the best fried oysters anywhere! My thoughts are with Marc’s family.

    Tuesday, Dec 29 @ 10:10 am
  • Browny Douglas

    The Dare County Republican Party sincerely sends its condolences to the Basnight family.

    Browny Douglas

    Tuesday, Dec 29 @ 11:59 am
  • Morgan Potts

    I was a senate page for him in 2000. He was such a kind hearted man. He had the ability to make the meekest David or Goliath feel comfortable in the Senate chambers (which can feel quite intimidating). He was born of the same salt from Manteo that made him the salt of the earth person he was; there will never be another like him.

    Wednesday, Dec 30 @ 12:57 am
  • outis

    A sad day for Dare County, and North Carolina. Rest in peace Marc.

    Wednesday, Dec 30 @ 12:15 pm
  • Todd Hagenah

    My wife and were having lunch at the Lone Cedar in 2002. We were just finishing an excellent fried flounder lunch when this very pleasant gentleman came over to our table and asked us if we had enjoyed our meal. He said the flounder had just come in that morning and asked if would we like to see the kitchen where it was being prepared. We knew that this was Marc Basnight in the flesh and we accompanied him of a tour of the kitchen and an adjoining room where fresh flounder was being cleaned for the cooks. As we left the kitchen he said to us: “Now don’t forget to have some key lime pie for dessert. It’s one of our specialties.” We did and never forgot the experience that day. In subsequent years I voted for Marc twice although I was a registered Republican. He was one of a kind and made a major contribution to the Outer Banks. May he rest in peace.

    Wednesday, Dec 30 @ 5:10 pm