By Gus Cross
A last-minute scramble of write-in campaigns created some surprising results for Buena Vista and Glasgow after the Nov. 7 election.
There were three city and town council seats up for election in Buena Vista and Glasgow, and in each case, only two names were on the ballot. Because of this, the third seat for both jurisdictions would be decided by write-in votes.
So not only was it possible for a write-in candidate to win; it was certain.
This was especially odd, because each of those seats had an incumbent who was running for re-election – but failed to get on the ballot. When the public became aware that the third seat would be decided by a write-in vote, some others decided to throw their hats in the ring at the last minute.
In Buena Vista, there were 1,113 votes for write-in candidates, more than the votes for either of the two candidates on the ballot. Of those two, Daniel L. “Danny” Staton won a seat with 1,011 votes and Councilman Melvin E. Henson was reelected with 867 votes. The write-in candidate with the most votes, Tyson Cooper, won the third seat for City Council with 242 votes. Cooper is the director of housing at Southern Virginia University.
Closely following Cooper was Stanley Coffey with 218 votes and Sydney Varren wtih 185 votes. The incumbent who failed to file in time to get on the ballot, John Dyer, was not even in the top three write-in vote-getters.
Third time’s a charm for Cooper
This is not the first time that Cooper has run for city council. He ran on the ballot the past two years and lost. He originally decided not to run for city council this year after discussion with his wife.
“I have a young family and I have a lot of other commitments and obligations,” said Cooper. “Serving on city council is a huge time commitment and responsibility that will take me away from my family quite a bit.”
He said he and his wife prayed about it and in April, when it came time to file his candidacy, he purposely let the deadline slip past. Upon hearing that there were only two names on the ballot, he and his wife felt prompted to have him campaign as a write-in candidate.
Coffey, a retiree who occasionally works for The News-Gazette, also didn’t know in time that there were only two names on the ballot.
“If I had known that, I would have been on the ballot,” he said. “But I didn’t realize that until later on and I said, well do I want to run a write-in campaign?”
Coffey realized he did want to run. Having grown up in Buena Vista, he said he missed the liveliness of Buena Vista he experienced when he was younger. This prompted him to run with the campaign slogan, “Stand together, show unity, and we can make our city come alive again.” With this in mind, he said his main goal would be to bring one industry to Buena Vista in the first year.
Coffey will get another chance next year to run for city council. Current City Council Member Billy Fitzgerald is the new mayor-elect – another surprise for Buena Vista on Election Day — and starting in January his seat will be vacant. According to City Attorney Brian Kearney, the city council will appoint someone to fill this position in January and a special election will be held during the 2018 general election to elect someone to finish out the position’s term.
One vote decides Glasgow write-in race
Glasgow also saw a relatively large number of write-in votes, making up over 20 percent of the overall votes cast in the town. The Glasgow election was especially remarkable in that a single write-in vote decided the outcome for one of the council seats.
Greg Hartbarger, the chief deputy commissioner of revenue for Rockbridge County, won the third town council seat with a mere 14 votes – by a margin of one vote. Right behind Hartbarger were two write-in candidates with 13 votes each, Tina Kingery and Aaron Britton. Jeremy Kilgore, an incumbent who did not appear on the ballot, received 12 write-in votes.
“I knew there was a position open and I just tried to talk to some people about the last week before the election,” said Hartbarger.
Hartbarger also said he has thought about running for a while because he wanted to be more involved in the community. He also hoped to “instill some new ideas in the town.” However, he wasn’t sure he would have the time to serve on the council until a few weeks before the election.
Hartbarger said he didn’t think he would win the election, he “just wanted to try.” He was surprised about the win but is excited and hopes to run again if his term goes well.