Absentee ballots made the difference in South Bethany’s May 27 town council election, with incumbent John Fields narrowly retaining his council seat by beating out challenger Chris White, with an 11-vote margin.
In what Fields described as an “average” turnout on Saturday, voters picked Councilwoman Marge Gassinger as their top selection, with 234 of the machine-counted votes. Challenger John Rubinsohn came in second among those who turned out in person, with 197 votes. White’s 170 in-person votes topped Fields’ tally of 160.
But Fields more than made up the difference in absentee ballots, with 84, compared to White’s 63. Gassinger again topped the list for the absentee vote, with 122, while Rubinsohn tallied 96.
The final totals: Gassinger, re-elected with 356 votes; Rubinsohn, with 293 votes, replacing Bob Cestone, who chose not to run for re-election this year; Fields using his margin on absentee ballots to bring his total to 244 and retain his seat. White narrowly failed in his first political bid, with 233 total votes.
Rubinsohn’s background in business administration and support from at least one prominent citizen boosted him to second in the election. Barbara Jayne, wife of Mayor Gary Jayne, happily handed out Rubinsohn’s political materials Saturday morning, commenting to voters that she thought he’d make a great addition to the council.
The object of her support was joined by the three other candidates just outside the polling station at South Bethany Town Hall for most of the day, in a breakneck sprint to the finish of the town’s low-key political season.
Some of the property owners checking in at town hall on Memorial Day weekend to pick up their parking passes for the season were persuaded to head inside to cast a vote, while others deferred and just stopped at the umbrella-shaded table manned by Town Clerk Dee Burbage and Financial Administrator Renee McDorman to get their passes.
But in the end, the number of voters approximately doubled the more than 200 parking passes handed over on Saturday.
Fields noted that turnout wasn’t quite what it had been when he was first elected to the council, two years prior, when the town also held a successful referendum on funding for the new town hall and police station. Turnout on May 27 was sporadic, with groups of voters turning out between brief lulls — many with their families and beach gear in tow.
(Beach patrol members reported the shoreline was as crowded on the warm, sunny day as it typically is in the middle of summer, with the full staff of lifeguards kept busy monitoring swimmers. But not a single rescue was required on Saturday, they noted.)
The victorious council members (and council-member-to-be) were eager early this week to thank voters and already looking forward to their goals for the coming two years on the council.
“I am grateful to the voters of South Bethany for returning me to a seat on the council for another two years,” Fields said. “I look forward to working with the council on beach replenishment, canal dredging and code enforcement. Hopefully, 2006 will be the year we get a comprehensive plan for South Bethany approved by the state.”
Gassinger said to the voters, “I appreciate your continuing support at our May 27 election.”
And Rubinsohn was prepared to put his business experience into place with an in-depth evaluation of the town’s fiscal situation, particularly in light of area-wide concerns about a slowing real estate market and resulting reductions in real estate transfer taxes and permitting fees.
The council members will meet in their new configuration for the first time on Saturday, June 3, with a 10 a.m. reorganizational meeting at town hall.