Prosecutor duel still hangs in the balance; Newton coasts to become sheriff

ADDISON COUNTY — Addison County voters on Tuesday returned incumbent Addison County State’s Attorney Dennis Wygmans to office by a razor-thin 7,802 to 7,793 margin over independent challenger Peter Bevere of Middlebury.
But  with only nine votes separating the two candidates, Bevere on Wednesday morning confirmed, through his spouse and campaign manager Kelly Bevere, that he’ll seek a recount that could yet tip the scales his way.
In other voting on county offices, Addison County residents overwhelmingly picked Peter Newton as their new sheriff and chose Patricia Ross and Jacqueline McLean in a four-person race for two assistant judge spots.
The final outcome of the state’s attorney’s race wasn’t known until Wednesday morning at around 9:30 a.m., when Bridport — the last town in the state to report election results — announced that Bevere had received 336 tallies, compared to 189 for Wygmans. Wygmans had been holding on to a 7,610 to 7,452 advantage to that point, and was able to maintain a thin lead in spite of the Bevere’s impressive vote total in Bridport.
It remains to be seen whether he’ll hold onto that lead following a recount to be held in the near future at Middlebury’s Frank Mahady Courthouse, the home base of the state’s attorney.
“It was scary close,” Wygmans, a South Burlington Democrat, said on Wednesday morning of Tuesday’s results. “He ran a good campaign.”
Wygmans was anticipating Bevere would call for a recount, given the close vote.
“Yesterday morning I had an idea that this would be very, very tight,” Wygmans said.
This was Wygmans’s first election to the job to which he was appointed by former Gov. Peter Shumlin in January of 2017. He replaced David Fenster as the county’s lead prosecutor when the latter was named to a Vermont Superior Court   judgeship.
Wygmans had joined the local state’s attorney’s office in 2013. He worked three years there as a deputy state’s attorney, prosecuting sex crimes and domestic violence cases. In December of 2016, Wygmans briefly left Addison County to become a deputy prosecutor in Chittenden County, taking on a variety of criminal cases. He then returned to Middlebury a month later to take the Addison County State’s Attorney job.
Bevere is the current chief deputy prosecutor in Rutland County.
He and his wife Kelly have lived in Middlebury since 2003. Both are Middlebury College graduates. Kelly Bevere is an assistant athletic director at her alma mater and is in her 13th season as head coach of its softball team.
Bevere graduated from the New England School of Law in Boston in 2001. His first job out of law school was as an assistant district attorney with the Cape & Islands DA’s office in Massachusetts. After two years in the role, he followed Kelly to Middlebury after she landed her job at the college.
His first job in Vermont was as an attorney with Rutland’s Meub Associates, where he did his clerkship requirement for admission to the Vermont Bar. He quickly moved on to the role of domestic violence prosecutor for the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office. After three years in that job, he transitioned back to private practice, as an associate with Middlebury-based English, Carroll & Boe.
In 2011, Bevere decided to return to prosecuting. He joined the Rutland County State’s Attorney’s Office, where he’s been ever since.
Bevere was in court all day on Wednesday and unavailable for comment.
Kelly Bevere was proud of her husband’s performance in his first-ever election bid.
“For an independent without party backing, I feel like we did a really good job,” Kelly Bevere said. “We did everything we could. With the way the election went last night across the state and in this county, to have gotten as close as we did — and potentially have it go the other way — would be really cool.”
The race was nip-and-tuck throughout the evening.
By and large, Wygmans did better in northern Addison County communities and in Bristol’s five-town area, while Bevere dominated in southern Addison County and in more politically conservative communities, such as Orwell and Leicester.
The two candidates ran very close in Middlebury, with Wygmans winning a 1,647 to 1,572 edge.
Ultimately, Wygmans bagged a majority of tallies in 12 county towns, with Bevere gaining the edge in 11.
Wygmans did particularly well in Ferrisburgh (688-561), Lincoln (407-270), Monkton (558-395) and Vergennes (582-442).
Bevere scored big wins in Bridport (336-189), Orwell (385-176),  New Haven (458-384) and Leicester (209-138).
Wygmans conceded that being a South Burlington resident might have cost him some support among some county voters who, lacking any in-depth knowledge about the two candidates, might have sided with the local (Bevere) resident. Wygmans said he and his wife had decided to remain in South Burlington in order to keep their daughter in the same school. But he anticipates being able to move to Addison County before the next election four years from now.
According to state statutes, a candidate may petition the county’s Superior Court clerk for a recount if the winner’s margin of victory is less than 2 percent. That recount must be requested within seven days of the election.
In the other, less-suspenseful county elections:
•  Newton, a Middlebury Democrat, defeated independent Kevin Gibbs by a 10,786 to 5,161 tally in the race for sheriff. Newton, a lieutenant with the sheriff’s department, will succeed incumbent Republican Don Keeler, who chose not to seek re-election. Keeler had endorsed Newton. Gibbs is the former Bristol police chief.
•  County voters elected Democrats Patricia Ross (8,763 votes) and Jacqueline McLean (8,070) as assistant county judges. They finished ahead of Republican incumbent Alice George (6,094) of Middlebury and New Haven Republican Doug Tolles (4,758 votes).
•  Residents re-elected Eleanor “Misse” Smith as Addison County Probate Court Judge, and returned Charles Clark Jr. as high bailiff. Both were unopposed.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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