Mount Airy gets a new mayor, based on Tuesday’s election result which the two candidates involved say resulted from a high turnout.
Jon Cawley, who has served as North Ward town commissioner since 2008, lost to Mayor Ron Niland in a May 17 primary but was victorious in the rematch for Mount’s most elected post. Airy.
Unofficial Surry County Board of Elections results showed Cawley received 1,915 votes (5% of the total vote), against Niland, who received 1,511 (4%).
Big push for Cawley’s support recently, as well as two issues he says fueled the result – involving a controversial downtown masterplan and a sign request from a local racing legend – are credited for victory.
“I went there planning to win and I had a lot of support from a lot of people and a lot of people went out to vote,” Cawley said Wednesday.
“Treva Kirkman was my campaign manager and we talked about winning,” he said of the determined mindset involved.
“And I feel like we ran a clean campaign,” the mayor-elect added. “This campaign had a lot of abuse, but I didn’t participate in it.”
The owner reacts
Niland was kind in his comments Wednesday about the nonpartisan election verdict and the underlying factors.
“Well, I don’t know if I was surprised,” added the mayor, who was appointed to the post last year to replace David Rowe, who previously held it before stepping down in October 2020 over charges. health reasons.
Niland credited his opponent’s campaign team.
“They worked very, very hard and they worked hard on early voting and I didn’t,” Niland acknowledged of a storyline that included Cawley stepping out for the start of that process the morning he started October 20.
The results of the one-stop, mail-in early voting period that ended last Saturday were evident with the release of the first returns for the mayoral race on Tuesday evening.
Before ballots from one of the city’s five wards had been counted, preliminary figures incorporating early voting showed Cawley a 1,163-to-998 advantage that held and gradually increased over the as the evening progressed.
Cawley had a lead of 182 votes after the results from a single constituency were released, which reached the winning margin of 404 votes after all were tallied.
“And the participation helped,” said the challenger.
“I just want to congratulate the winners,” Niland said Wednesday, referring not only to the mayor’s contest, but also to the three Mount Airy Board of Commissioners races that will see the five-member group get a trio of new ones.
All those elected on Tuesday will be sworn in at the beginning of December.
“I’m disappointed, obviously,” Niland said of his loss. “But I’m optimistic about the future of our city.”
The mayor, also a former city manager here, says he plans to prepare an official statement on the situation to read at the next council meeting on November 17.
Downtown, Fleming Factors
Along with the campaign basics of working hard to get voters out, Cawley pointed to two issues that have emerged since the May primary that he says affected the outcome of the mayoral election.
One concerned the recent adoption by the city council of an updated master plan for downtown Mount Airy, which many citizens – and business people in the central business district – oppose, including by organizing a protest march on October 9.
Niland has been a strong supporter of the plan which critics fear will cause physical changes to streets and sidewalks that could damage the existing character of the downtown area.
Cawley voted against the plan on September 1, the same evening he was criticized by the majority of speakers in a public hearing, and said on Wednesday he thought it struck a chord with voters. “The rush to get this vote through for a reason that seems very hard to fathom.”
The other issue he says played a part involved a struggle from local body shop owner Frank Fleming, also known for his successful modified racing career. Fleming first hit a snag in his plan to use an existing panel at a site where he is developing a $2 million facility that will create jobs.
Fleming was banned from using the old sign due to exceeding city height regulations that apply to new businesses, despite its former use by a supermarket. Those rules were deemed petty and arbitrary by some observers and, as Cawley said on Wednesday, ran counter to common sense.
Cawley openly supported Fleming’s efforts to remedy the situation, which included appealing a zoning board’s decision to Surry County Superior Court.
City officials later approved an amendment allowing the local businessman to reuse the sign, with a host of his supporters in the audience, including a member of the NC General Assembly. Still, the damage seemed to have been done from a public perception standpoint.
“I think we need to do a better job of listening and taking more responsibility for educating the public,” Cawley suggested Wednesday of such situations.
“And I feel like we focused on the issues that were in front of us and people responded to our message,” the election winner said of his campaign team.
The mayor-elect cited public safety as the number one need he wants to tackle, particularly regarding staff departures from the city’s police and fire departments.
He had one last thought on Wednesday:
“Thank you to all these wonderful people who have supported me.”