Nothing about the Town of Clifton's recent mayor and Town Council races was particularly calm or normal, so it should probably come as no surprise that its election Tuesday ended in a wild finish.
In fact, the results in the mayoral race weren't made official until Wednesday morning, with incumbent Jim Chesley declared the winner over challenger Judy McNamara by a single vote. When they went to sleep, Tuesday night, they were deadlocked in a 60-60 tie; but by Wednesday morning, a recount at Fairfax County's Electoral Board gave Chesley the victory.
ADDING TO the zaniness of it all, both of them were write-in candidates, yet they each trounced former Councilman Wayne Nickum — whose name was the only one listed as a candidate for mayor on the ballot. Final vote totals were Chesley, 60; McNamara, 59 and Nickum, 37.
"I feel like I'm on an emotional rollercoaster," said Chesley on Wednesday afternoon. "It was another good exercise in civics in that, by God, every vote counts."
In the seven-person race for the five seats on the Town Council, all five people listed on the ballot won. They and their vote totals were: Brant Baber, 111; Lev Buller, 109; Trisha Robertson, 108; Mac Arnold, 106 and Margo Buckley, 80 (the latter two were incumbents). The two write-in candidates, Deb Dillard and Bill Watts, received 60 and 59 votes, respectively; Chesley received two.
Also noteworthy is that 160 out of Clifton's 202 registered voters (including seven absentee voters) cast their ballots in the election — a whopping 79.2 percent turnout. Said Chesley: "It was the highest voter turnout in any municipality in the Commonwealth and, I venture to say, in the U.S."
Maggie Luca, secretary of the Electoral Board, said Wednesday that Clifton's election results became official around 10:30 a.m. "They still have to be certified and sent to the state," said Luca. "But these results are final, for all intents and purposes."
Legally, McNamara has 10 days to request a recount. And although Chesley figured she would, on Wednesday afternoon she said she didn't intend to do so. "They re-looked at all those votes, this morning, so I don't see any reason to have anyone go to the expense of a recount," said McNamara. "What's done is done." And while she didn't win, she was happy about her strong showing at the polls.
"I think I did a fabulous job," she said. "I feel very good that I made [Chesley] step up to the plate and realize he couldn't just sashay into office again." Noting that he received just 60 of the 160 total votes cast for mayor, she added, "I just want everyone to realize that 100 people didn't want him back."
SO WHAT'S NEXT for McNamara? "Mother's Day and my son's graduation," she replied. "I'm not sad or terribly disappointed. I feel I did everything I could to win. If I didn't, I didn't."
Chesley, too, is glad the race is over and is eager to getting on with business. "I'm going to push very hard to get [Clifton's] underground and above-ground cabling done and look at putting in brick sidewalks," he said.
He wants Clifton to hold an "open forum to discuss the HUD [housing] program and any unfounded allegations and rumors that have been spread." He also plans to have the town attorney brief the Town Council and the residents on what an executive session is for and what can and cannot be discussed in and out of it."
During the campaign, both Chesley and Baber were the target of attacks on their character, and Chesley said that was the toughest part of it all — "Every day, wondering what new slanderous information was going to be spread about me and the town — what new lies were coming out."
He said it saddened him, especially since his campaign was above-board. "This is not my Clifton; this is disgusting to me," he said. "This back-stabbing and lying is not what Clifton is about, and it is not acceptable. I didn't slam anyone else. I talked about myself and my accomplishments for the town."
Likewise, Baber said running for office was interesting, but "not fun." Most difficult, he said, were "the anonymous attacks — which I find disheartening, because you can't even discuss the problem with [someone anonymous]."
After his victory, he said, "I feel almost vindicated after the various attacks on me." And he was pleased that, instead of believing unsubstantiated rumors, those who've known him as a long-time resident "trusted their own judgment and experience" when casting their votes for him.
FURTHERMORE, added Baber, "Under the town charter, the highest vote-getter [for Town Council] is the vice mayor." And with his race-topping 111 votes, he now holds this title.
While amazed that people "went right down that ballot and dropped off the two write-in candidates for Town Council," Chesley was "extremely glad" it'll have three new people. "Baber, Buller and Robertson are good people who'll be open-minded and make solid decisions."
"I'm proud of the response I got," said Robertson. "I feel like I have a good mandate to serve on the Town Council, and I'm thrilled that so many people turned out to vote. I'm just excited to get to work for the town." Pleased with the mix of new and experienced council members, she said, "I'm proud to serve with all of them."
Buller last served on the council in 1996, so he's pleased to rejoin it and says he now has to get "up to speed" on the town issues. He also noted that "a lot of good ideas — such as better communication — came out of the campaign and the [town] forum that the town can put into place."
Despite everything, Baber doesn't regret running because "it's the right thing to do to commit your time to where your heart is. And whether I'd won or lost, I'd still be involved [in Clifton]. When you're in a small town, you don't have the luxury of staying mad. You all have to work together." Added Robertson: "People can disagree about things, but we all have the best interests of the town at heart."