Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown thumps Cure at the polls
Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown pulled off a resounding victory against his challenger Jonnie Cure — a landslide of 1,394 to 216 votes that can only be interpreted as a voter mandate for the vision for the town Brown has carried out over the past 16 years.
Brown said he was not expecting to win by such a huge landslide. He barely scraped by four years ago, beating his challenger that year by a razor thin margin.
This election, Brown believes voters saw the town’s very fabric and future on the line, given Cure’s reputation for conservative extremism.
“In this case we had a race about the town of Waynesville. Sure there were personalities in play, but at the end of the day, it was really about Waynesville, about our town,” Brown said. “It clearly tells me we have done good things here. What we have done collectively as a community has been validated.”
Voters further affirmed their faith in the town’s leadership by re-electing all three incumbents running for town board.
“I think it shows the majority of the people are happy with the decisions we have made,” Alderwoman Julia Freeman said. “We put Waynesville in the forefront of everything we do. That’s who we are.”
“I think voters feel they had an excellent board that’s been in there and support what we’ve done for Waynesville as a whole,” agreed Alderman Gary Caldwell, who was the top vote getter.
Caldwell’s been on the town board for 20 years, and has been the top vote getter in four previous elections.
“I have really been honest to the citizens and I always try to be helpful and be a voice for everybody, from the youth to the seniors,” Caldwell said.
The only newcomer to the town board is Jon Feichter — who won the only vacant seat up for grabs. Feichter is downtown business owner who largely shares the vision set in motion by the existing board.
“I think that is a pretty clear message that the citizens by and large are happy with the direction of town government if you will. My goal in that context will be to pitch in wherever I can,” said Feichter, whose mother was a beloved town alderwoman. “There are things that can be improved and I have ideas I would like to focus on, but given these results, it seems people are pretty happy with the direction is going.”
There was technically a third candidate on the ballot for mayor, Lynn Bradley. A South Main Street businessman with conservative leanings, Bradley signed up to run against Brown, but then changed his mind.
It was too late to get his name off the ballot, but he made it known through local media and by word-of-mouth that he people shouldn’t vote for him.
It worked surprisingly well. Bradley got less than 70 votes.
Cure initially threw his support to Cure, publicly endorsing her. However, Bradley’s support for Cure waned as the election drew near. Bradley even took Cure’s campaign signs down from his store front.
On the morning of Election Day, Bradley learned that Cure’s supporters had placed signs at the polling sites reading “Lynn Bradley says vote for Jonnie Cure.”
Bradley wasn’t pleased with the messaging. He made the rounds to all the polling sites, saying he had not sanctioned such an endorsement. He pulled up signs from the ground and personally confiscated signs being hand-held by Cure’s campaign volunteers and took them away.
Voter turn-out was significantly higher this election than four years ago.
Brown believes it’s because there was more at stake this election. The mayor’s race in particular had diametrically opposed candidates with dramatically different visions for Waynesville.
Brown said Cure would have turned back the clock on the town’s progress and compromised the quality of life Waynesville is known for.
Cure believes lower taxes and less regulations are the path to prosperity, and that government is an adversary to the private sector.
Brown believes the town plays a critical role creating an environment where people want to live and setting the stage for businesses to flourish, and in that sense, town government is a community partner.
“Why do I win by this much this time? It is not that Gavin Brown has changed all that much. It is the town of Waynesville saying ‘Waynesville is a good town and there is no idiocy allowed in this town,’” Brown said.
Brown has been mayor for eight years, and says this was his last time running. But it was one of the most important races he’s been in.
Brown characterized Cure as an extremist and said her resounding defeat should send a message to the conservative activist faction that she is part of that the larger community doesn’t share their views of society.
“This is not just about the town of Waynesville. This is about the larger community. We are setting the tone for future elections,” Brown said. “The pendulum swings but it doesn’t swing that far. It doesn’t swing from 12 o’clock around to 12 o’clock — it swings from maybe 5:30 to 6:30.”
Those who won seats on the town board had all publicly endorsed Brown and are pleased he will be mayor.
“I am astounded at the margin between Gavin and Jonnie. I have followed elections and politics my entire life and I don’t know that I have ever seen a winning margin that significant,” Feichter said.
The overwhelming support for Brown and the town board incumbents turns Cure’s primary campaign message on its head. Cure asserted that vast numbers of Waynesville residents were dissatisfied with town hall, felt disenfranchised from the decision making process and saw the town’s leaders as out of touch.
But the election results refute Cure’s theory of mass discontent among the populace.
Indeed, several voters chosen randomly for exit poll interviews said they were happy about the direction of the town.
“I feel like what we have has been good,” said Margaret Shipman, a voter stopped coming out of the Waynesville library polling site who said she voted for Brown. “We need the right people in there to get Waynesville where it needs to be. I know people say it is a tourist town but it brings in money.”
The town’s tourist appeal can translate to economic development when people like Kay Isserman move to town. She came to Waynesville from Naples, Florida, for its small-town charm. She hopes it stays that way, and voted accordingly.
“I am hoping the town doesn’t become too commercial. I like the town I see now,” said Isserman, who voted for Brown.
Down the road in Hazelwood, Mackie MacKay was coming out of the polls after casting a vote for Brown as well.
“Just got to keep the ship afloat,” said MacKay, who believes the town is generally on the right track.
Growth, development and the economy was a central issue in the election, and one that voters apparently picked up on.
Some candidates said the town was too picky when it came to appearance standards. Others said standards are necessary to maintain the town’s character and appeal.
Voters were surprisingly versed in the debate and brought it up as one of the issues in the race.
“I don’t want to see them come in and slap up metal buildings like they used to. They start to look ratty pretty quickly,” Wayne Kaylor said, stopping for an exit poll interview at the Hazelwood voting site. “You let loose all the rules, we go back to what we had before.”
Another claim Cure made in her campaign was that the town’s budget is too extravagant when it comes to amenities, like building a skateboard park or supporting HART’s construction of a second community theater.
But those are important to some voters.
“I an in full support of candidates that support the arts and recreation,” said Sarah Beth Lee, a voter exiting the Salvation Army polling site around dusk. “Happy and healthy citizens are productive citizens. It is an investment in a better standard of living for everyone.”
Waynesville voting by the numbers
Registered voters: 6,582
Number who voted: 1,695
Number who voted early: 562
Number who voted on Election Day: 1,133