With 809 or 18 percent of 4,375 registered voters going to the polls, Homer has a new mayor, two returning council members and, as a result of the mayor’s race, one empty seat on the council.
In the two-candidate mayoral race, with council members Beth Wythe and Bryan Zak running, Wythe took 471 or 60 percent of the votes and Homer City Council member Bryan Zak had 305 or 39 percent.
“I was anxious. I don’t know if I was totally surprised, but I’m really pleased,” said Wythe, who was first elected to the council in 2004. “It was interesting because it sounded like voter turnout was low, which is traditional for Homer, but I was really happy with my percentage of return.”
Upon hearing the results, Zak, who has served on the council since 2008, said, “I knew I was up against a tough opponent. I’m glad I was able to clearly express the way I stood on the issues. I’m going to be there to continue to support the city on the city council. We have a lot ahead of us.”
Zak listed bringing natural gas to Homer as the biggest project ahead for the city. More immediately, the council is entering budget season. How to spend city dollars is where he believes he and Wythe differed.
“I would have planned to plow back a little into figuring out ways to continue to develop the community from an economic standpoint, putting some money to work as opposed to holding a tight line on the budget,” said Zak, who believes that with 39 percent of the vote others agree with him.
Wythe also was encouraged by widespread support she received.
“I’m surprised with some of the people that I wouldn’t necessary be their first choice because we’re not on the same side of the aisle. That tells me we’re not always agreeing on the issue, but we’re always agreeing on being honest with people, being open, making sure they know where you stand and why you stand there,” said Wythe.
Two actions top Wythe’s mayoral to-do list.
“Pretty consistently we hear people coming in and saying how can this (topic) get all the way through and they didn’t know about it,” said Wythe. “However we’re communicating, we aren’t reaching the target audience and we need to figure out how to engage local businesses so they know what’s going on at the council table and the community in general.”
Tuesday’s 18 percent voter turnout underscored Wythe’s concern.
“We keep hearing from people that they’re not hearing what’s going on. We need to find some common ground where we can move forward,” said Wythe.
Secondly, at a recent forum held at the library, Wythe noted how a change of venue might encourage communication between the council and the public.
“It would be interesting if you could develop a format to meet with business managers and people outside of the council chambers, and have a little more open, free-flowing conversation about specific things of concern to them, provide people with a voice that is not as structured as council meetings,” said Wythe.
Of more immediate concern was the 18 percent voter turnout.
“We keep hearing from people that they’re not hearing what’s going on. We need to find some common ground we can move forward on,” said Wythe.
In the Homer City Council races, two-term incumbent Francie Roberts easily won re-election to what she said will be her third and final term, placing at the top with 552 votes. Beau Burgess, appointed to fill Council member Kevin Hogan’s seat last April, is second, with 414 votes. In the three-way race, the top two vote-getters win the two open council seats. James Dolma, a member of the Homer Planning and Zoning Commission, finished third with 384 votes. With a 30-vote margin, Dolma could finish second depending on
absentee votes. There are 131 absentee or other votes still to be counted.
Dolma said he already called Burgess to congratulate him.
“Certainly I am very honored to be re-elected,” Roberts said. “I appreciate the support of the voters. I hope I can continue to represent people in a fair and honest way.”
Burgess, who, with Roberts, had backed a controversial ban on thin, disposable plastic shopping bags, said he had worried that people might vote against him for his bag ban stance. In his short term on the council, Burgess showed he wasn’t shy about articulating his positions, saying, “I definitely suffer from an excess of clarity on the issues.”
The results didn’t surprise him, Burgess said.
“I didn’t have a lot of expectations one way or another,” he said. “I figured Francie would do well and it would be close between James and me.”
“I’m grateful for all the people who voted for me,” Burgess added. “It’s all a lot of responsibility coming down and some important issues for sure.”
With Council member Beth Wythe getting elected Homer Mayor, there will be a vacant seat on the council to be filled by appointment in a vote of the council, opening up a chance for Dolma to get on the council. Roberts said she hoped Dolma would apply for appointment and Dolma said he would do that.
“He was interested enough to run a good campaign,” Roberts said of Dolma. “He has a lot of issues that he was interested in.”
Dolma called the race civil.
“It’s really great to run against those guys. They’re just wonderful people,” he said. “One of the few elections without any animus — like, wow.”
Dolma said he thought the council as elected would do a good job.
“They have some things in the works; they’ve got things to do,” he said. “It’s a good council I think all the folks are going to work really well. I’m looking forward to getting some things done for the city.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com.