PALMER — In one of the closest mayoral races in the history of the city of Palmer, Mayor Edna DeVries squeaked out a victory on Friday after the Canvas Board considered 141 absentee, by mail and questioned ballots.
The Canvas Board removed four of the possible 141 ballots, and DeVries held her lead over Jim Cooper, Palmer’s mayor from 2001-2004. DeVries held a 29-vote lead going into Friday’s Canvas Board and received a total of 267 votes to Cooper’s 264.
“I was sort of on pins and needles,” said DeVries. “We have a strong belief in God so we just kept praying.”
DeVries said that the Palmer City Council may look at moving their election dates to coincide with the Mat-Su Borough Assembly and Mat-Su Borough School District Elections in November in the future, due to low turnout. Prior to Friday’s Canvas Board tally, 8.78 percent of registered voters in Palmer cast votes. Following the final tally on Friday, 11 percent of Palmer voters turned out for the council election. DeVries was happy to have won a race without negativity against Cooper.
“We both ran a clean race,” said DeVries. “After the dust settles, I would like to meet with Jim and just ask him what he picked up that or what he was promoting that we need to look at as a council.”
Voters had their choice between four candidates for two three-year seats on the council. When former Deputy Mayor Pete LaFrance departed the council, Jill Valerius and Richard Best were the two finalists for the temporary council seat that was eventually won by Imran Chaudrhy. Both Best and Valerius were winners on Friday night, retaining their leads and winning council seats.
Valerius won her first campaign for elected office and received the largest number of votes for the three-year seat with 263. Best, who had served on the council for more than a decade prior to losing his seat in 2018, was the runner-up by just 28 votes, was also reelected to the three-year term with 257 votes.
“Last election cycle, I didn’t knock on doors, I didn’t have fliers. I put up a few signs that’s all I did last election. So this time, it was a more concerted effort of going out and talking to people more. Elections in Palmer has changed since when I first got on the city council. Last year was the first year that I had actually had signs, before that I had never so much as spent a dollar on a campaign,” said Best.
Councilman David Fuller came in third place with 161 votes and lost his seat. Lisa Albert-Konecky received 145 votes. There were five write-in votes cast for the three-year term. During the questioning process for Best and Valerius to determine who would be selected for the temporary council seat, Best was asked repeatedly about his employment as Rep. Ben Carpenter’s (R-Kenai) Chief of Staff. Best said that he plans to teleconference into meetings during the legislative session. Best is hardly the first locally elected official who also serves as a legislative aid in Juneau, following Sen. Jesse Kiehl (D-Juneau) and DeVries, who worked as a staffer while serving as a council member.
Steve Carrington won the two-year seat with 273 votes over Lee Henrikson who received 253 votes.
Best and Carrington opted to save money and print a two-sided election pamphlet with each candidate on one side.
“I’ve always kind of enjoyed our symmetry because we approach things very differently. He pays a lot of attention to the process of what do the rules say and the history and follow them down to the minutia, I’m a problem solver. If I see a problem I start thinking of how to solve it and so it’s a little bit different that way,” said Carrington.
Henrikson approached Carrington and shook his hand on a race well run at City Hall following the results of the Canvas Board. Similar to Best, Carrington put a much more robust effort into campaigning for the two-year term during this election cycle.
“I should appreciate my sore feet,” said Carrington.
The advisory question on whether or not to enact term limits on the council passed overwhelmingly, with 408 yes votes and 114 no votes cast. House Minority Press Secretary Zach Freeman and District 9 Republican Party Chair Carol Carman were present for the counting of the votes by the Canvas Board on Friday.