Despite only having one candidate on its ballot, the Bryson City mayoral race has heated up, with two potential write-in candidates joining the race.
Bryson City resident Tom Sutton is actively campaigning as a write-in candidate, while current mayor Brad Walker said he will be glad to serve another term if voters write him in. Only Jeramy Shuler will appear on the ballot as an official candidate, however.
Area residents and business owners had opposing views on whether write-in candidates offer another alternative or were just trying to skirt the election filing fees.
“I wonder if he (Sutton) didn’t want to pay his admission to file,” said Willard Smith, a Bryson City resident. “I’ve never known a write-in to get elected, but I guess there is a first for everything.”
Ivan Gibby, owner of Calby’s Antiques, said that everybody has the right to run as a write-in candidate, and Sutton will offer voters an additional option.
“An election implies that you have a choice,” he said. “If you are going to have an election, have two people.”
Walker did not announce that he wasn’t running for re-election until “the 11th hour,” Gibby said. Two or three people would have thrown their name into the race had they known Walker wasn’t going to run again, Gibby said.
Paul Crawley, a town resident and owner of Soda Pop’s Ice Cream, said Shuler was the only one who showed enough interest in the town to file with the Board of Elections on time.
“I think Jeramy will make a good mayor,” Crawley said.
Candidates must sign-up to run for election in July if they want their name to appear on the ballot. For those that miss the sign-up period, running as a write-in is their only choice.
There is certainly a precedent for write-in candidates to beat out those officially appearing on the ballot, particularly in small towns where elections hinge on relatively few voters.
There are about 1,050 registered voters in Bryson City, according to the Swain County Board of Elections. Of those, only 248 people voted in the last mayoral election in 2007.
Maggie Valley has seen more than one write-in candidate successfully ride to victory. There, candidates have run as write-ins as a strategic move. Those officially on the ballot are lulled into complacency, believing they are running unchallenged and don’t campaign as hard to turn out voters. Meanwhile, the write-in candidate runs an underground campaign to turn out a last-minute swell of voters on Election Day.
In the Jackson County town of Forest Hills, the sitting mayor had to run as a write-in candidate two years ago after missing the candidate sign-up period. He was hiking in Europe during the filing window.
Tom Sutton, 52, write-in candidate
Sutton spent 24 years in the Navy, worked as a school resource officer for the sheriff’s office and is now a parole officer.
He said he would have registered as a candidate if he knew Walker was not going to run.
Sutton had nothing bad to say about Shuler, the only candidate on the ballot, but simply felt voters should have a choice.
“I think people deserve a choice,” said Sutton, who has considered running for mayor before. “I knew it was going to be tough to do this way.”
Sutton has placed an ad in the local newspaper, put signs up around town and simply walked around talking to people about his candidacy.
“I want to see things done, and I want to have a say in it,” Sutton said.
In 2004, the town overhauled Everett Street’s appearance — including adding new street lamps and adding brick to sidewalks. Sutton said he would like to see similar streetscape work on Main Street.
“It’s done a lot for the businesses on Everett Street,” he said.
Road repairs and re-pavement would also be near the top of Sutton’s to-do list, if elected. And although he said he has no “big plan,” Sutton wants to focus on improving downtown parking as well.
Sutton would like to continue many of the projects Walker started. He listed the upgrade the town’s water system as one of the biggest projects, saying he would continue to improve the system’s efficiency.
So far, the race has been clean, Sutton said.
“Mr. Shuler has been really good about not making it about him and me,” he said.
Jeramy Shuler, 39, officially on the ballot
Shuler owns Ridge Runner Auto Sales and Friendly Appliance Dealers in Bryson City. He said if someone wants to run, they should make their campaign official.
“If you want the office, you would have filed on time,” Shuler said. “I knew before the date (that Brad wasn’t filing).”
He ran against Walker four years ago, touting crime as one of his main concerns. Back then Shuler said he was worried about the number of drug violations and thefts in town.
“I just really want to increase the patrol in the town,” Shuler said in a recent interview. “I would like to see better patrols at night.”
The local business owner also said he would work on communication between the fire department, the town and residents, adding that he hoped to restore trust in the fire department.
Shuler said he would not have run against Walker again.
“I thought Brad had done an excellent job, and I want to continue with some things that Brad’s got going,” Shuler said — something he and Sutton have in common, in addition to continuing the beautification of the town.
Shuler said he would like to spread the Everett Street improvements to the rest of the city and would like to see the city and the county working better together to accomplish things.
Brad Walker, 67, willing to serve if written in by voters
Walker has been mayor for four years and, prior to that, was head of the town planning board. He has been involved with local businesses for 30 years and has held numerous leadership roles with the Swain County Chamber of Commerce and Swain County Tourism Board.
Walker decided not to run for re-election but has heard from supporters in recent weeks that they plan to write his name in anyway.
“People said they liked me,” Walker said. “They were very disappointed I didn’t run.”
Walker opted not to run on the ballot officially because he wasn’t sure what the next four years — the term of office if elected — would hold for him on a personal level.
He would be 71 by then and had always envisioned building a house in the country by that age. But if he moved outside the town limits, he would have to resign his post.
“I would hate to be mayor and have to leave part way through,” Walker said.
But if he is elected as a write-in, Walker said he would gladly continue on as mayor.
Walker has been an advocate for more progressive standards for the appearance of new commercial buildings, particularly downtown. Walker fears the lack of standards currently makes the town vulnerable to ugly buildings that could detract from Bryson City’s charm.
Walker and the town planning board spent four years crafting guidelines that would ensure new development is in keeping with the town’s character, but the plan has gotten a lukewarm reception from the majority on the town board.
The town board must ultimately sign off on the new standards, and Walker called the lack of interest from the board disappointing. But, Walker hopes a public hearing on Nov. 21 will show that most people in town support more progressive appearance rules.
“I think a lot of people want this,” Walker said.
— Becky Johnson contributed to this story.
During the next week, area residents will travel to the polls to vote for their future leaders into office. Early voting began last week and ends this Saturday in Haywood, Jackson and Macon counties.
Residents of Waynesville, Canton and Maggie Valley:
Early voting will take place on Elmwood Way beside the former Bargains building in Waynesville. The polls will be open form 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday thru Friday and from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
Residents of Sylvia and Forest Hills:
Voters can cast their early ballots at 401 Grindstaff Cove Road in Sylva. The polls will be open from 8 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday thru Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday
Residents of Franklin and Highlands:
Early voting will take place at 5 West Main Street in Franklin from 8 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday thru Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday.
Residents of Swain County towns do not have the option to vote early this election.
Polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m.
Check with your local Board of Elections for voting locations.