Welcoming a new mayor

Surprise, shock main emotion on eve of Blount elections

Two words describe the outcome of Thursday’s general election -- surprise and shock.

And that’s if you are speaking to Republicans, who swept three Democrats off the Blount County Commission.

Add disappointment to list, and you’ve got the reaction of the Democrats and Independents as well.

Republican Party chair Susan Mills said she knew the Blount County Republican Party had a good group of candidates, but she was surprised by the outcome in some races. “I was shocked we had a clean sweep,” she said. “You couldn’t have asked for more effort from our candidates, and it paid off for them.”

Surprise and shock also lingered in Howard Kerr’s mind. The former State representative, running for mayor as an independent, lost by more than 7,000 votes to Republican Ed Mitchell, the retired Maryville Fire chief.

“I was surprised, shocked and disappointed at the results,” Kerr said.

Democrats gathered at the Airport Hilton were surprised and disappointed as results came in.

Wendy Pitts Reeves said response from Republicans, Democrats and Independents across the county to the Democrats running for office leading up to the election had been positive.

“We were all surprised at the outcome,” she said while sitting with downcast members of the party in the Cherokee Room.

Mills said she predicted if 20,000 registered voters turned out, the Republicans would win. In this election, 18,408 voted. “I’m disappointed that out of 75,000 registered voters, only 18,000 voters turned out, but I’m very happy with the result,” Mills said.

Ed Mitchell said it had been a long time since Dec. 28, when he officially started campaigning for county mayor. “Here we are, eight months later, and what we set out to accomplish has happened,” he said. “The one thing I found out through all of this is you can not do anything by yourself. You have to have the support of family, friends and, in this case, the people of Blount County.”

Mitchell said he spent the last eight months talking to as many people as he could about the issues facing residents in Blount County. “I’ve tried to listen to as many people as I could. Now I hope to do this job to the satisfaction of the people of Blount County,” he said.

The retired Maryville fire chief said one of his first priorities will be to sit down with employees of the mayor’s office. “I want to let them know where I’m coming from and let them tell me what they expect of me,” he said.

Mitchell said he understands there are many things to be done. “I want to progress at a pace where I can give my full attention to our issues,” he said. “I know it is hard to not make mistakes, but I hope by taking a slow and careful approach in dealing with problems, we can make as few mistakes as possible.”

Republican Jerome Moon, who beat incumbent Commissioner Wendy Pitts Reeves, said that during the campaign, the more people he talked to, the more issues came up. “It wasn’t the hot button issues like debt restructuring that people expressed concern about. It was jobs. People said, ‘I’d rather have one full-time paycheck instead of two part-time paychecks without heath insurance,’” he said. “These are tough times, and this commission and county will have to pull together to move our economy forward. We’re in tough times, just like the rest of the United States.”

Moon said his first priority will be focusing on jobs and being a diligent member of whatever committees he may be assigned to serve on during his term. “I’ll give a great deal of my time working with cities and the county to create jobs,” he said.

Art Swann praised Scott Hughes, his closest competitor in the District 8 State House race. “I told Scott I saw something in him that I saw in myself 20 years ago - an enthusiasm and a desire to win. I’m at a different time in my life now,” Swann said. “I still have enthusiasm and drive, but I also have experience and a desire to serve.”

Swann praised his team for making it a well-run campaign “We had a lot of support. Concentrating on the nuts and bolts of our campaign is what gave us our final margin,” he said.

Swann said the state legislature’s first priority is going to be to figuring out how to survive without the $1.5 to $2 billion in stimulus funds that run out soon. “That is going to be a tough situation. We’ll have to do a lot of soul-searching,” he said.

Tonya Burchfield, who won a second term as District 1 Seat A commissioner in her race against Democratic challenger Brandon Cook, said the commission’s first priority will be finding a solution to the financial issues and still keeping property taxes low. Burchfield said Cook was a formidable opponent. “I was scared to death,” Burchfield said.

Gerald Kirby, county commission District 10 Seat A incumbent, beat Democratic challenger Tony Webb in the commission race. Kirby said he looked forward to working with the Republican commission to keep taxes low and encourage job growth. “We are going to have growth, so we need good infrastructure,” he said.

Kirby said as soon as the new Prospect Elementary School is finished in Seymour, commissioners should look at finding funds to help Blount County Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap repair roads in the county.

“We need to help him where he needs help,” Kirby said.

Incumbent commissioner Gary Farmer, District 4 Seat A, said, “I am happy with the results, and I really look forward to sitting with some new commissioners and a new mayor.”

Kenneth Melton, incumbent and unopposed commissioner for District 10 Seat B, was excited with the outcome. “I look forward to working with all these Republican commissioners and the new mayor,” he said.

Kerr said that if the election was totally on the “up and up,” then Mitchell was to be congratulated and Kerr would wish him the best. “But I know skullduggery goes on. That kind of thing happens,” he said.

The former state representative said that at his July 23 pig roast at the pavilion in Bicentennial Greenbelt Park, he had 400 to 500 people show up. “I’m not making accusations, but Ed had a picnic a few days prior to mine and had 50 or 70. Then the Republican Women had a picnic and didn’t turn out 200, and then Ed wins by a 7,000-vote margin? If that is the true, up-and-up correct vote, I’m proud to have been in the race, and I concede,” he said. “But I don’t believe factually that this is the vote as cast.”

Kerr said he also didn’t believe Reeves, who lost to Moon in her re-election bid, got fewer votes in this election than she did four years ago in her first election.

“Maybe I’m being naïve. Had I lost by 1,000 votes, I wouldn’t question it, but 7,000 votes? I simply don’t believe I lost by that much and have serious doubts about the validity of these results. I don’t believe Ed Mitchell had anything to do with it, but I question the numbers,” Kerr said.

Kerr said he spent days on the phone talking to people. “I had people reporting from all over the county that I was going to win this race big time. I know a lot of people on the Republican Executive and Republican Women’s committee who said I was the real Republican in this election, and that makes me believe this should have been closer,” he said. “I’m a numbers person, and I simply don’t believe I lost by 7,000 votes.”

Kerr said he has not filed a complaint with the state but that he is considering his options.

The state election commission on Friday said they had had only one complaint lodged in the Blount County races. A mishap in the ballots in Rockford led to approximately 100 people receiving the wrong ballot in the race for the State House, District 8. Because the winner (Art Swann) won by such a large margin, the votes Swann or any of the other candidates would have received from those voters would not have affected the outcome.

While three Democrats on the commission lost, Reeves said the party members stood behind them. “We’re proud of what the three of us have done on the commission,” she said. “To those who will take this ship forward, we wish them well.”

Cook and Webb each said they were thankful for the people they met throughout the campaign.

Webb said that while campaigning on very hot days in his district, residents were gracious. “If I didn’t have anything to drink in my hand when I walked up, they gave me something,” he said.

“Running for office, you really do find the heart of a community,” Cook said.

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