BERLIN – Gee Williams will no longer need to list “interim” before the title of Berlin mayor after achieving election to the top elected post in town Tuesday with 59 percent of the vote.
Williams, who took over as mayor temporarily when previous Mayor Tom Cardinale unexpectedly died in May, defeated former Mayor Rex Hailey by 141 votes.
Williams earned 470 votes to Hailey’s 329, or 41 percent of the vote. Joe Hill, a member of the Berlin Planning Commission, received two write-in votes.
Williams defeated Hailey in three of four voting districts in town, with Hailey getting the majority of the support in District 4.
Turnout for the entire election was the highest it has ever been, at 808 total ballots cast, 31.6 percent of registered voters.
District 2 had the greatest voter turn out, with 46.7 percent of registered voters casting a ballot. District 1 saw 34.3 percent come out to vote, with District 4 coming in at 17.1 percent, and District 3 with the smallest turnout, 16.9 percent.
The 2004 mayoral election, which was the first contested in Berlin’s modern memory, garnered roughly 750 ballots.
Polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday and the results were announced at 9:30 after the election committee counted the ballots by hand and conducted an automatic second count.
Some were surprised to see Berlin persist with the old-fashioned paper ballot system, given the expected interest in this election, but according to Williams, the elections committee did not want to change to a machine-based vote. Williams said that the town offered to rent or borrow voting machines.
Williams gathered friends, family and supporters together upstairs at the Globe Tuesday night to await the election’s results. Around 9:30, Williams Campaign Manager Sean Coughlin walked into the room and gave Williams the thumbs up.
“Berlin came to a crossroads today and decided to move forward,” said Williams.
The town, he said, was given two choices, between his own forward-looking message, and Hailey’s fear-based message, and had chosen optimism over fear.
Townsfolk should not be obsessed or intimidated by the challenges ahead, Williams said.
“Because of your decision today, I can say with absolute confidence Berlin’s best days are ahead and not in the past,” Williams said.
Berlin is poised to grow, he said, but town officials have some tough calls to make about the electric utility, sustainable growth and the wastewater plant expansion.
Williams said Tuesday night that he represents leadership on a range of topics, not just the electric utility, which, he said, Hailey was presenting as a problem caused by the recent administration.
“I really felt that most Berliners would understand that the challenge and the bills from the electricity were not the result of a five-month mayor,” Williams said. “Most people had more concerns than just the single issue my opponent ran on.”
The evening was marred only by a minor accident involving Williams’ mother, Irene Williams, who tripped and fell down the last few steps of the front staircase at the Globe. She received only minor bruises from the accident.
“Mom’s been around 80 years, and I think she’s going to be around awhile longer,” Williams said during his victory speech.
Berlin Councilwoman Paula Lynch, present at Williams’ after-election gathering, said she was happy with his win.
“He deserves the chance to do it on his own,” said Lynch. “I’m delighted.”
Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd, a Berlin resident, supported Williams’ campaign.
“I’m happy for the town of Berlin he’s been elected,” said Todd. “I thought he would win.”
Hailey concluded a post-election interview with the request that he not be quoted.
With Williams’ win comes another step, a special election to fill his now vacant District 1 council seat on Dec. 16. The special election must be held within 60 days of a vacancy. Williams’ seat will officially be vacant when he is sworn in as mayor on Oct. 27.
The filing deadline for the District 1 special election is Nov. 10. Candidates can file at any time until that date. Absentee ballots may be requested from Nov. 14 to Dec. 9. Voters can register through Nov. 14.
Meanwhile, Williams will continue doing the work of the town at night and on weekends, with office hours Friday afternoon.
“Let Berlin’s best days begin and let them begin now,” said Williams.