Secret election coup attempt fails
BERLIN – An election day ploy to thwart the re-election bid of Mayor Gee Williams via a surprise write-in campaign failed on Tuesday, as Williams claimed a 335-122 victory in what was originally an uncontested race. What became known Tuesday morning, however, was that a quiet push to write-in former Councilwoman Ellen Lang for mayor was under way and that the effort appeared to have been well planned. Meanwhile, other municipal races took place without much drama.
Deputy Town Administrator Mary Bohlen reported that District 2 Councilmember Lisa Hall beat newcomer and former planning department intern Ronald Marney, 169-68, and District 3 Councilmember Elroy Brittingham received 38 votes of confidence as he ran unopposed.
The official District 2 battle was between Hall and Marney, but write-ins Kirk Burbage and Allen R. Mumford each received two votes, while Thomas Taylor Lynch and Thomas Sholtis each earned one vote.
The winners will serve four-year terms and that includes Williams, who expressed some post-election relief. "
I'm grateful for the support I received and that people came out to vote on what I see is a referendum on Berlin's future," Williams said.
Williams had initially thought his return as mayor was essentially guaranteed, since no one had stepped up to run against him, but the emergence of the write-in campaign prompted him and his supporters to increase their efforts to get people to the polls.
Because of the running battle between town government and the Berlin Fire Company over how the company addressed charges of harassment in the workplace earlier this year, the assumption by many was that the fire company had orchestrated the mini-coup attempt. Fire company officials on Wednesday, however, denied any role in the write-in effort.
"The Berlin Fire Company does not represent or support anything in the political arena," said fire company President David A. Fitzgerald.
Lang issued a similar statement.
“I have never been contacted by the Berlin Fire Company in regard to this issue. I never campaigned for the office and I never asked a single person to vote for me,” Lang said.
But a person familiar with local politics and who wished to remain anonymous recalled meeting with Lang to see if she was aware that an effort was being made to launch a write-in movement. "When I play back our conversation in my head, all she kept talking about was the fire company," said the source, who added that Lang knew of the write-in campaign.
The fire company continues to maintain that it has done everything the town has asked of it, while town officials dispute that assertion, leaving the two sides at loggerheads. In the summer, the council officially cut its annual funding to the company, an estimated $600,000, because of what officials said was the company’s failure to comply with its requirements.
The company’s denials of political involvement notwithstanding, Williams put the blame on the fire company in a statement on Wednesday.
“The company's actions were underhanded and did not demonstrate a positive way to choose leaders. It should be an open campaign so people can make informed decisions. I believe the outcome indicates that responsibility, respect and the truth are still very important in our community."
After taking a moment to reflecting on everything that occurred on Tuesday, Mayor Williams stated "There is a lot of work ahead and I'm looking forward to work with the council on trying to fulfill as much of Berlin's potential as we can during the next four years."