Medve, DeColli win Mount Airy seats

Hobbs out after 9 terms

Johnson fends off Holt for fourth tour as mayor

May 08, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Critics of the Mount Airy political establishment claimed victory yesterday after first-time candidates John Medve and Chris DeColli defeated nine-term incumbent R. Delaine Hobbs for Town Council seats in the election Monday.

Incumbent Mayor Gerald R. Johnson defeated write-in candidate James Holt, although Holt supporters said many votes for their candidate were thrown out because people wrote only Holt's last name on their ballots.

Election rules required more complete identification for write-in votes to count.

Candidates and community activists had cast the election as a battle between old Mount Airy, represented by Hobbs and three-term incumbent Johnson, and new Mount Airy, represented by DeColli, Holt and other candidates who claimed the council has allowed rapid population growth to overwhelm schools and water services.

"I was thrilled. I think this is a very clear message from voters," said Michele Johnson of Mount Airy Citizens for Tomorrow, a group that has criticized town government for annexing land despite school crowding and the need for continued water restrictions.

The mayor, however, said he believes he and the council have done all they can to control growth, imposing limits on how quickly subdivisions can be built, working to improve the town's water distribution and pressuring Carroll County to build schools.

Despite Monday's election results, the mayor said he can't foresee a radical policy shift.

"I'm not sure a lot of our critics understand the town of Mount Airy or want to understand it," he said. "They don't understand that it's a community that strives to make things better for everybody who lives here."

Johnson won with 492 votes to Holt's 311.

Although it remained unclear yesterday how many votes Holt lost because people filled out ballots incorrectly, he had said throughout the campaign that he wouldn't challenge the result if such a problem arose.

The Board of Elections had informed him that six write-in variations of his name - including "J. Holt" and "Jimmy Holt" - would be accepted but that "Holt" alone would not count as a vote, because other Holts live in town.

Holt called that a fair solution and, recognizing the potential problem, spent Monday handing out fliers detailing the correct write-in procedure.

Some Holt supporters were not as ready to accept defeat, scouring the Town Charter for loopholes and promising to challenge the result if they find improprieties.

"I do not personally plan to contest the election," Holt wrote in an e-mail yesterday.

"However, I understand that many (259, to be exact) voters feel disenfranchised because their votes were tossed. I will not discourage them from making known their feelings," he wrote.

In the council race, DeColli and Medve did not criticize existing government during their campaigns, although DeColli was supported by some of the harshest critics.

Both newcomers promised to spend their first weeks on the council analyzing all houses scheduled to be built in the next several years and deciding, based on that data, how fast the town should grow.

Medve, 46, a consultant for a defense contractor, has said he supports extending a six-month moratorium on residential development.

The ballot leader with 621 votes, he credited his success to long days of door-to-door campaigning.

"If you want this job, you have to get out and show people," he said. "I didn't see any of the other candidates in my neighborhood."

DeColli, 32, an information technology program manager, said he would like to see Mount Airy's downtown spruced up and its Web site redesigned.

He and Medve say the town needs to be tougher in asking the county to build much-needed schools.

Johnson said he expects no problems working with DeColli or Medve.

"I was sad to see that Delaine didn't make it, but the voters made a choice, and we have to move on," the mayor said.

Hobbs did not return calls for comment yesterday.

DeColli defeated Hobbs by 13 votes, 444 to 431. Michael Boyer finished fourth with 395 votes, and Denise Morgan was last with 164 votes.

In all, 1,079 residents voted for a turnout of about 28 percent, much higher than in other town elections during the past 10 years.

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