VERGENNES — Two multi-term incumbents lost re-election bids in Tuesday’s six-way race for three seats on the Vergennes city council, while two familiar faces seeking elective office in Vergennes for the first time earned the most votes.
Real estate appraiser and Vergennes Partnership President Bill Benton polled 350 votes to lead the field, followed by former city manager Renny Perry with 313.
Three-term incumbent Clara “Ziggy” Comeau, a real estate broker and downtown property owner, earned the third seat by edging two-term incumbent and Goodrich Aerospace employee Lowell Bertrand (228) and five-term incumbent David Austin (203).
Austin, a downtown business and property owner, and former planning commission member was on vacation during a well-attended candidates forum on Feb. 23 that was also broadcast on local cable television, and unlike the other candidates did not stand outside the polling place and greet voters on Tuesday.
Trailing the field with 105 votes was political newcomer Nelson Sears, a 1975 Vergennes Union High School graduate who now works for the University of Vermont. Benton said on Wednesday he was recruiting Sears to join the Vergennes Partnership, where his background in public relations and community outreach could be helpful to the organization charged with boosting the city’s downtown.
Benton, whose extensive community work also has included serving on the boards of the Bixby Library, Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes, and the Friends of the Vergennes Opera House, said he was “kind of surprised” by his first-place finish.
“I didn’t expect to get the most votes. I’m humbled, gratified that people supported me,” he said.
Maybe, he said, what he heard from some residents proved to be true, both for him and for Perry, with whom Benton is looking forward to working.
“People told me that it was just time for some different ideas, some change,” he said. “I’m really happy that Renny decided to run, because I think we complement each other well. I’m in town, around a lot, I know a lot of people ... and he’s a great administrator. I think everybody likes what he did when he was city manager.”
Perry has also worked as the city manager in Dover and Rochester, N.H., and Brewer, Maine, in all gaining 20 years of experience in that role, including his Vergennes stint. He also served on the city council in Dover and the town council in Hooksett, N.H., and was elected to one term as the mayor of Dover, a city of about 30,000.
Perry was gratified by his strong showing in his first Vergennes election.
“I’d like to thank everybody for the support,” he said. “I’ll do the best that I can to please them in the term that I’ll be serving.”
Perry, like the other candidates, noted the turnout, which at 548 was about 100 more than typical elections with a primary. Perry said possibly the hotly contested council race did draw more city residents to the polls than usual.
“Maybe by the way things in Vergennes went they wanted something of a change,” he said.
Comeau, a former planning commission and zoning board member who wants to pay special attention to the upcoming council review of new zoning laws, was also grateful for the support that allowed her to win the tight race for the third seat.
“I want to say thank you,” she said. “I’ve had several people call me and congratulate me.”
At the same time, Comeau said the contributions of Austin and Bertrand will be missed.
“I am sad about Lowell and David,” she said. “I really don’t know why I stayed and the other two left.”
Certainly, Comeau said, the complexion of the city council will be different, but she is looking forward to working with Benton and Perry.
“It’s going to be very interesting because we have two new people with new ideas,” she said. “I’m very open-minded. We try to work as a team, and I know both of them, and I’m sure that won’t be a problem.”
At least one of the runners-up hinted he would throw his hat back in the ring.
“Congratulations to the newly elected aldermen and thank you to those who supported me in my first run for public office,” Sears said. “I look forward to gaining the respect and support of more Vergennes residents in preparation for next year’s election.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]