Apalachicola voters will return to the polls in two weeks, as the mayoral race remains undecided, and one of the commission races is still up in the air, following Tuesday's city elections.
Kevin Begos and Valentina Webb will square off in the mayor's race, while Despina George and Barry Hand will battle for Seat #1, in the Sept. 17 run-off.
In a very close race, Adrianne Elliott, 21, 129 22nd Avenue, narrowly edged Apalachicola attorney Torben Madson, 57, 40 16th Street, by just 25 votes in the race for Seat 2.
Madson had a 14-vote lead going into Election Day, by a 345-331 margin. But Elliott outpolled him on Election Day voting by gathering 203 voters to his 164, to secure the victory. By tallying 534 votes, or 51.1 percent, to Madson's 509, or 48.9 percent, Elliott become the youngest person ever elected to the city commission.
"I am doing fantastic," said Elliott, at a victory party at the Tap Room. Elliott works as a bartender at the Apalachicola Ice Company, which closed early to take part in the victory party. She also works as a customer service rep at the Apalachicola Regional Airport.
She said the election "was hard, it was an arduous battle" and praised her opponent. "Torben was the best opponent I could ask for," Elliott said. "He's a respectable gentleman and he ran a fair campaign and I can’t thank him enough for that."
Elliott said she relied more on social media, and personal contacts as part of her role in the hospitality industry, than in knocking on doors. "I was not able to reach many doors and get many answers. I didn't meet as many people door-to-door as he did," she said.
She said she plans to stay clear of the upcoming run-off but stopped short of declaring she had ruled out making an endorsement.
"At this time the answer is no," Elliott said. "I think that with the four candidates that still have the runoff, we have the best of the best up there. Apalachicola could not ask for better representatives."
To those who might think that at age 21, she lacks the knowledge and life experiences to serve on the city commission, Elliott said wait and see. "I would say to them, I think through my hard work and commitment they will see I have the best intentions for the community and I will not stop the fight for what is best for Apalachicola," she said.
As for her priorities, she said "first and foremost we need auditing on the entire city financials. We need to figure out where we're bleeding the most, and we need to figure out how we will use our capital improvement plan to revitalize Apalachicola."
In the mayor's race, Webb. 55, 255 11th Street, secured the most votes in Tuesday's elections, gathering 480, or 44.8 percent, to 427 votes, or 39.9 percent, for Begos, 61, 109 15th Street.
Amy Hersey, 38, 451 Morris Cannon Street, received 164 votes, or 15.3 percent. She and her supporters will no doubt be passionately wooed in the next two weeks, as those votes are likely to spell the difference in the upcoming Sept. 17 runoff.
Webb thanked Hersey and Begos for "coming forward in service of our community. I also want to remind Amy Hersey’s supporters of my lifelong commitment to the welfare of Apalachicola. Just last week my recommendation to suspend the CRA immediately is another example of my putting the city’s interest ahead of popular appeal."
Webb pointed to "my track record of protecting our most vulnerable citizens, seniors and children, for three decades speaks for itself. We are now faced with a need for a healing hand to repair the divisions that have characterized us recently. I am that healing force that will lead us out of debt and into a new prosperity, resiliency and positive regard for one another."
Begos said he believes his positions are more closely aligned with those of Hersey, and that the recent problems that have surfaced with CRA funding, a key aspect of his campaign, point to the need for a fresh approach to city government.
"I think more of the people who voted for Amy will find more to like in my platform than in Valentina's," Begos said. "I’m thrilled to be in the runoff because two months ago, a lot of people didn’t know my name and I made huge progress in raising issues that are crucial to the city.
"Valentina was the front runner, I think everyone assumed she would win. She was much better known, with a lot of financial backing. She wasn’t able to get a majority of voters in Apalachicola to back her.
"In a two-person race, 45 percent isn’t enough," Begos said. "I’ll take that math."
In the Seat 1 race, George, 62, 224 Whispering Pines Circle, was top votegetter, with 467 votes, or 43.9 percent, to 328 votes, or 30.9 percent, for Hand, 51, 22 Apaco Street.
Finishing in third place, with 206 votes, or 19.4 percent, was George Mahr, 72, 212 Avenue C, followed by 62 votes, or 5.8 percent, for Luis Ramon Valenzuela-Lopez, 53, 16 Adams Street.
"I’m just so grateful for the strong support I received, which exceeded my expectations," said George. "I’m encouraged that so many of my friends and neighbors believe I can make a difference in our city, and I will not take that trust lightly."
Hand said he plans a spirited campaign in the next two weeks to attract supporters of the other two candidates. "I plan on working harder than I did and to keep talking about my plans for our city and our citizens, that I believe will be the best for all of us," he said. "I expected to win and I expect to win on Sept. 17."
Turnout for Tuesday's balloting was 60.2 percent, an impressive total for an off-year, municipal election, far exceeding the 45 percent of two years ago.
"We had over 1,000 voters turn out, a lot more than previous years," said Elliott. "I'm so proud this many people were willing to make their voice heard in our community."
About two out of three voters who cast ballots did so before Election Day even began at 7 a.m.
Of the 1,075 registered voters within the city limits who cast ballots, 410 did so during the week-long early voting, or about 37 percent of the total turnout. Another 298 made their preferences known by voting by mail, about 28 percent. On Election Day, 376 voters went to cast ballots at the Armory, about 35 percent.
No early voting or vote by mail will be held for the Tuesday, Sept. 17 balloting, once again at the Armory. Supervisor of Elections Heather Riley said the two-week period between the election anf run-off, stipulated in the city charter, did not afford her office sufficient time to get updated ballots printed for early voting or vote by mail.
The lack of early voting or absentee voting in the runoff has surfaced as a campaign issue, since many people may be out of town, or have difficulty getting to the polls, on Election Day. All candidates have said they plan to provide help with those who are less mobile to be sure they get out to the polls.