All three incumbent commissioners running in Tuesday’s non-partisan municipal election in Mount Airy won new four-year terms, capping a vigorous and sometimes bitter campaign.
South Ward Commissioner Shirley Brinkley staved off write-in challenges by Bill Clark and Joe Reid to capture her second term on the city council, according to unofficial results from the Surry County Board of Elections.
Meanwhile, Dean Brown was elected to his third term as a North Ward commissioner in a victory over N.A. Barnes and At-Large Commissioner Jim Armbrister won his first full term over Jerry Taylor after having been appointed to the board last year.
Brinkley garnered 701 votes, or 50.36 percent of the total cast, and Joe Reid had been credited with 611 write-in votes and Bill Clark, 27. There were still 33 miscellaneous write-in ballots yet to be attributed, but not enough to change the outcome of the vote.
Brown drew 849 votes, or 59 percent of the total, to retain his North Ward seat compared to 574 votes (40 percent) for Barnes, with 13 write-in votes accounting for the rest.
Armbrister received 822 votes (57 percent) in the at-large race, with Taylor garnering 603 (42 percent). Ten write-in votes were cast in that contest.
Voter turnout overall was 22.6 percent, much higher than for any municipal election in recent memory.
Brinkley ran on record
Brinkley, who will now enter her second term as a South Ward commissioner, said she didn’t run a campaign in the months preceding Tuesday’s election. Instead, she said she relied on her record to tip the scales in her favor.
“I think people know me, and I hope people trust me” explained Brinkley. “When I say I’m going to do something, I do it.”
In coming out on top against write-in candidates Reid and Clark, Brinkley, 70, who works at a local hotel and as a substitute teacher, said she spent $10 to file for the campaign. After that, the incumbent said she used campaign materials and yard signs from the last election.
“The best I can say is that people knew me and knew what they were getting,” remarked Brinkley, a resident of Pineview Drive. “The people knew those who were willing to strive to make Mount Airy the best it can be and to do it the right way.”
In the end, Brinkley said she’s simply “thrilled” to have received another nod from the residents of Mount Airy.
Reid, 67, a retired director of information systems at Pike Electric who was the closest finisher to Brinkley, did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday night.
Brown: People have spoken
Local political observers viewed Tuesday’s election as a mandate on a controversial redevelopment plan for the former Spencer’s Inc. property now owned by the city.
The incumbent city commissioners had gone on record as supporting only the revitalization of the Spencer’s site, while their opponents backed a broader plan that took in private property including some thriving businesses.
Since the Mount Airy Redevelopment Commission, the group spearheading the process, has the legal power to take property by eminent domain, there was concern about the implications for owners of those sites. That seemed to be a key issue for the election outcome.
“The voice of the people has spoken,” Commissioner Brown said Tuesday night after the vote totals were reported.
“I’m really pleased and I know that I really worked hard to get accomplished what I did,” Brown said from a local restaurant during a victory dinner.
“And I’m going to continue working like I always have — listening to the voices of the people and (pursuing) the development of Mount Airy,” added the incumbent, 76, a retired educator who lives on Folly Farms Circle.
As far as his position for a redevelopment plan of limited scope, Brown said he believes Tuesday’s result was evidence that voters “were satisfied with what I said.”
He did acknowledge the negativity of the campaign in general, although the race between Brown and Barnes was genteel in comparison with others.
“Well, there were a lot of negative things in the campaign,” Brown said. “But I stayed out of every one of them.
“It was something I had never seen before in Mount Airy,” he said of the negative aspects. “But I worked hard to stay out of all of it.”
Barnes was gracious in his response when contacted Tuesday night about the election result.
“The only thing I can say is Mount Airy doesn’t want change,” he said, “and I called Dean Brown and I congratulated him — it was a good clean race.”
Barnes, 83, a semi-retired business owner who resides on Plantation Place Lane, was philosophical about the election.
“I lost a good race — I was surprised, but I lost fair and square and life will go on,” he said.
Barnes said that he had told someone Tuesday morning that regardless of the outcome, “I would be able to lay my head on the pillow tonight and go to sleep.”
In his post-election comments, Armbrister agreed with Brown that Mount Airy voters made their position clear Tuesday.
“I think, and know, that the citizens sent a clear message, on a few issues at least,” the at-large commissioner said, without mentioning redevelopment specifically.
“Their voice was loud and clear today.”
But Armbrister is looking forward to the city putting the bitterness of the campaign behind it and moving forward. “That’s a priority for me,” he said.
The at-large commissioner said he was pleased to see so many citizens get involved in the election and to gain the support he did, indicating that he will work harder than ever as a city board member in response.
Armbrister also said it was gratifying to actually be elected as a commissioner, after being appointed to the council last year to replace the late Scott Graham.
“I’m very, very tickled,” he said. ”I’m elated.”
Taylor was brief in his comments Tuesday night regarding the election results.
“I’d just like to say thank you to everyone who supported my campaign,” Taylor said.
When asked for his take on the outcome, he replied, “I gave you my comment.”
Reach Tom at email@example.com and Andy at firstname.lastname@example.org