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Write-in likely to run for mayor in Maggie following tragic death

haywoodThe tragic accident that killed Mayor Ron DeSimone last week has left a hole in upcoming town elections this fall.

DeSimone was running for re-election as mayor. His name will no longer be on the ballot. But it’s too late for any new candidates to be added to the ballot. Nor is there a mechanism to formally name someone to run in his place.

There’s a specific two-week window in July when candidates can register to run in town elections. That window ended at noon Friday. DeSimone was killed just 30 minutes later — around 12:30 p.m. Friday — when a load of wood fell on him at a construction site.

Despite the unusual and tragic circumstance, once the candidate sign-up period has ended, it can’t be extended or re-opened, according to George McCue, general counsel for the N.C. Board of Elections in Raleigh.

The only avenue for a late-comer at this point is to mount a write-in campaign for mayor. That’s a highly likely scenario, and quite feasible in a town as small as Maggie. Only 359 people voted in the mayor’s race four years ago — a small enough voting base for a write-in to get their name out, despite not being on the official ballot.

Maggie elections are no stranger to write-in candidates. Write-ins have successfully won in Maggie more than once. The most recent was Alderwoman Saralyn Price, who ran as a write-in in 2005 and has been on the town board ever since.

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The printed ballot won’t be completely devoid of mayoral candidates. DeSimone was the front-runner as the incumbent, but two challengers had signed up to run against him.

However, candidates who shared Desimone’s vision and platform hadn’t entered the race — not with DeSimone running for re-election. Given the tragic turn of events, many believe someone will undoubtedly step forward as a write-in candidate. 

“It is going to take big feet to fill those shoes that he wore,” Price said. 

But it’s been too soon for anyone to feel comfortable talking about who that might be.

“It is kind of inappropriate right now with the remembrances that are taking place tomorrow,” Alderwoman Janet Banks, a friend of DeSimone’s, said on Monday night, referring to his funeral the next day.

Anyone can run as a write-in, including current aldermen. If a sitting alderman won as mayor, they would have to resign as alderman, and the vacated seat would in turn be filled by an appointment of the town board.

Two of the current aldermen are up for election themselves in November — Banks and Alderman Philip Wight. 

Candidates can run for only one office at a time, at least officially. Unofficially, however, Banks or Wight could still run as a write-in for mayor.

“They would only be appearing on the ballot for one office, so theoretically, though some politicking, they could say ‘I am running for mayor also,’” McCue said. “They would not be eligible to accept both positions, but they could chose one and decline the other.”

The two challengers who had signed up to run against DeSimone and will formally be on the ballot are:

• Jasay Ketchum, a long-time Maggie resident and regular at town meetings.

• Justin Phillips, who moved here a couple years ago and owns Organic Beans coffee shop.

Ketchum believed he had a chance against DeSimone. 

“You know, honestly and truly, I think it would have been a tight race. I have supporters and he has supporters, and honestly I think it would’ve been a nail-biter,” Ketchum said.

Meanwhile, Maggie Valley aldermen have to figure out what to do about the vacant mayor’s seat between now and the election. Price said the town board will hold a public meeting in the coming week to discuss the issue openly.

Banks said it will be important to involve the community in the process.

“It is like all small towns this happens in: what do you do?” Banks said. “What are the pathways you need to follow to be fair to everyone who’s running or not running? We want the public to help us make the decisions about where the board goes from now until November.”

Price is the mayor protem, which makes her the acting mayor in the event of the mayor’s absence. The board could opt to officially appoint someone as mayor between now and November, or just have Price serve as the acting mayor until the election settles it.

If the board officially appointed Price as the mayor — instead of just the acting mayor — she would have to give up her alderman seat. She would then have to run for mayor as a write-in, but if she didn’t win, it would be too late to get her vacated alderman seat back. 

With the community reeling from the loss, Banks said the public meeting in the coming week will be critical to keep the town united.

“We want to let the people of Maggie Valley know we are going to continue moving forward,” Banks said. “I don’t want to move backward.” 

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