Daniels edges Benton in mayor’s race: Former city leader topples incumbent

VERGENNES — The race on Tuesday for Vergennes mayor between two-term incumbent Bill Benton and former three-term mayor Mike Daniels went to Daniels by a slim margin, 270-265, in turnout of about 31 percent.
The win marked the second time Daniels, 69, unseated a sitting Vergennes mayor. He first won the job in 2007 by defeating incumbent April Jin, and then served for six years.
Daniels has also served five years in two separate stints on the Vergennes City Council, the second of which ended this past March.
Benton is a real estate appraiser who, like Daniels, has a long history of volunteerism in Vergennes. He also defeated Jin to become mayor, in 2013, after one term on the city council. Earlier his winter, Benton said he wanted to serve one more term as mayor to complete ongoing initiatives, and then step down. Those efforts he cited included Otter Creek basin projects, city pool upgrades, and work to improve downtown pedestrian and bicycle safety. 
Despite the close result, Benton on Wednesday morning said in an email he had “no idea” if he would ask for a recount, and otherwise declined comment. According to Vergennes City Clerk Joan Devine, he has 10 days after the election to seek a recount.
Daniels said he would have no objection to a recount request, and would “offer my support to Bill” if one created a different result.
“I totally respect whatever he does. I would hate to be in his shoes,” he said. “I feel bad in one sense, but in these positions someone is a winner and someone doesn’t walk away with the name.”
Daniels and Benton stood outside the city’s fire station polling place for much of Tuesday and got the sense the race was tight.
“It was nip and tuck throughout the day, and it showed when the numbers were counted,” Daniels said.
According to Daniels, they pledged mutual support.
No matter who won or lost we’re creating a win-win situation,” Daniels said. “Bill and I already discussed if either one of us would have won we were going to try and support one another. So the things he had going don’t get lost, and we’ll try to make Vergennes a better place.”
Daniels said when he announced he believed Benton was doing a good job as mayor, and one reason he started getting signatures for his petition was because he thought Benton might step down.
“I had heard a rumor that he wasn’t going to run,” he said.
Daniels had no major theories why the tight contest might have tilted his way, but said some residents might have remembered the council’s support of a proposed East Street toddler park during Benton’s tenure, backing that came despite a Town Meeting Day advisory vote against it.
“The council didn’t listen to the voters, and I don’t know if that had an impact,” he said.
Daniels retired in 2013 from a management position with the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services and has since kept busy with a variety of part-time jobs and volunteer projects while remaining active in the Vergennes Fire Department.
Before he decided to run, he also conferred lengthily with his wife, Judi.
“She’s my rock. She stands behind me. She works alongside me. Success doesn’t go to one person in this case,” he said.
Among his goals are making city government more responsive to residents; re-establishing the informal cracker-barrel meeting with residents that were a hallmark of his earlier tenure; encouraging attendance at the annual city meeting and at regular council meetings, possibly by changing the time of the latter, which were moved from 7 to 5:30 p.m. under Benton; looking carefully at the city tax rate; upgrading the Otter Creek basin area; and getting truck traffic out of downtown.
He would also like to involve more seniors in city affairs and community life.
“One thing I’m going to propose, and of course this will have to go through the city council to pass it, is a Vergennes senior citizen council,” he said.
During his most recent stint on the council Daniels found himself on the short end of a few 5-1 and 6-1 votes, and he wants to get off on the right foot.
“I know some of the council members and I have not always agreed on stuff when I was on,” he said. “I’m hoping to meet one on one with them and talk about our differences and either agree to disagree or see how we move on together for the next two years.”
UPDATE ON FRIDAY, MARCH 10: Vergennes will recount ballots in the mayor’s race on Monday, March 13.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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