BERLIN – Troy Purnell carried the District 1 special election with 53 percent of the vote Tuesday to step into the District 1 council seat.
Berlin newcomer Phil Cropper took 36 percent of the vote, while former mayor and town council member Rex Hailey made a disappointing showing with just 11 percent of vote.
Purnell received 120 of the 225 votes cast, with Cropper getting 80 votes and Hailey 24 votes.
Every town council seat will be filled for the first time since the unexpected death of Mayor Tom Cardinale in early May when Purnell is sworn in on Dec. 22.
“It feels good. Obviously the people have spoken, and I’ll do the best job I can,” Purnell said.
When asked if he was surprised at his victory, he said he had not been sure what to expect in the weeks leading up to the election.
“I had no idea how I’d do, honestly,” Purnell said post-victory. “I’d never done it before.”
While he did not expect to win, Cropper said Wednesday he was pleased with his good showing in the polls. He noted that he is a newcomer to Berlin and has far fewer personal connections in his district than the other two candidates. He estimated that at least 75 of the votes cast for him came from people he met while campaigning door-to-door in recent weeks.
“That means a lot right there,” he said.
Cropper said he knew going into the campaign that he faced a head-to-head battle with Purnell, as the other candidate promising a fresh face in Berlin politics.
For his part, Hailey acknowledged disappointment in his poor showing on Tuesday.
“I was very disappointed, yeah,” said Hailey. “Times change and people move on.”
While no one can say for certain why Hailey received so few votes in the special election for the district council seat, many have said that he made a poor showing in the early December candidate forum. However, considering there were only a few dozen voters in the room that night, it’s difficult to say whether the forum had an impact that night.
Hailey has lost the last three elections he signed up for, starting with the 2004 mayoral contest when then political newcomer Tom Cardinale ran against him.
In the October mayoral election, Hailey received 329 votes townwide, or 41 percent of the ballots cast, when he squared off against Gee Williams.
Both Cropper and Hailey mentioned some concern over Purnell’s background in post-election interviews this week.
Purnell caught some flak during the campaign, and even before he filed, over his development business which is centered on the town of Berlin and environs.
Critics contend that he will either need to recuse himself from many key votes over development and wastewater issues or that he will unduly benefit from his position on the council.
Purnell, who has served on two local planning commissions and is familiar with ethics laws, said after the election that his business interests are not a problem for him as a member of the Berlin Council.
“Unless I do something stupid, there won’t be,” said Purnell.
Cropper said, “I wish the people would have thought twice about voting a developer in.” He added that he would stay involved in meetings as a citizen to keep an eye on potential ethics problems.
“I’ll be interested to see how it plays out with a developer on the council,” Cropper said.
Cropper felt Purnell’s business concerns might prompt him to recuse himself from many votes, and Berlin as whole would lose if one voice from the council had to stay out of many of the major discussions facing elected officials.
Cropper also expressed concern that, if Purnell must remove himself from a discussion and vote, Williams, who has supported Purnell during the campaign, would break any tie. A tie-breaking vote from Williams, Cropper said, could reflect the town’s old boy network that tends to support developers.
Purnell said he has no specific agenda to push for, since the town is already working on solutions to the main concerns he encountered during his campaign.
“The two issues I kept hearing from everyone I talked to was basically the public infrastructure of the town and the electric situation,” Purnell said.
Cropper will remain involved as a citizen, he said, which gives him as much of a voice as any council member, just without a vote. He is also looking into open positions on Berlin’s citizen commissions and committees.
“All citizens need to attend meetings and stay active,” Cropper said. “I plan on still attending all the meetings and staying as active as I can…if you have people showing up at the meetings, the council members will really have to think about their votes more.”
Purnell will serve out the remaining two years on Williams’ term, with the seat up for election in 2010.
“I’m going to listen and learn as much as I possibly can and look at it from a business stand point,” Purnell said.