Bob Jarman thought it would be a toss up. Rick Hughes knew it'd be close.
And Jamie Stephens, while not wholly surprised by the outcome of the April 23 countywide County Council election, is grateful for the sizable margin by which voters backed his reelection bid.
That wasn't the case back in the fall of 2010, when Stephens, the council's current chairman, endured four weeks of limbo before results of a recount confirmed his win over then-incumbent Bob Myhr and a victory in his second campaign for the county council.
"It seemed like it just kept going on and on, for almost a month, and after it was over I'd still only won by just 11 votes," he recalls.
This time around, Stephens won handily.
A two-year council incumbent and former port commissioner, he earned a decisive win by outpacing 33-year-old Brian McClerren, a political newcomer making a first-ever run for public office, by garnering 57 percent of total ballots cast -- 3,640 votes to 2,737 votes -- in the District 3 council race. He gathered a majority of votes in 17 of the county's 19 voting precincts, losing San Juan Southeast and San Juan North by a combined 27 votes -- and prevailed convincingly in District 3.
Stephens, endorsed by both the local Democratic party and the San Juans three elected state representatives, Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas), and 40th District House representatives Kristine Lytton and Jeff Morris, out-raised and outspent McClerran more than 2-to-1 over the course of the campaign. McClerran who drew a boost from the only political action committee involved in the campaign, Trust Islanders!, spent $6,470 in campaign funds, compared to $15,628 by Stephens, who raised a total of $19,399, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
With roughly 60 ballots remaining to be counted, voter turnout for the April 23 election, the first countywide election in seven years, excluding February's primary, totals nearly 59 percent. All remaining ballots will be counted May 1; date of certification for the election is May 7.
With the die now cast on the April 23 election, the council will now shift from a 6-person panel of part-time legislators to a 3-person body with legislative duties and with responsibility over day-to-day operations of county government. Each will earn $75,000 a year, plus benefits.
The council will soon select someone to fill the role of county manager, whose duties include assisting in the county's daily management.
Stephens said a top priority for the newly elected council will be managing the transition ahead, such as selecting a manager, meeting with department supervisors and other county elected officials, defining roles and establishing priorities.
"I think it'll be really important how all that gets handled," he said. "I think we'll be able to do that well."
While Stephens' margin of victory proved decisive, his fellow council incumbents, Hughes and Jarman, only squeaked past their respective opponents.
Jarman, who defeated former councilwoman Lovel Pratt in a "district-only" council election in November, outpaced Pratt in the April election by just 70 votes, his second victory over Pratt in six months.
A fire district commissioner and former longtime manager with the local telephone company, CenturyTel, Jarman came in second behind Pratt in February's three-way primary, after defeating her by only 99 votes in November. Still, he felt odds of winning the April election were at least even, if not better, after a review of the primary results.
"When I looked at the primary numbers I felt pretty sure I'd get most of Marc's votes (Councilman Marc Forlenza), and that it would be a pretty close race," Jarman said. "Then when it got down to the wire and anyone would ask me, I's say, 'just toss a coin'. But I felt pretty good about my chances."
Jarman had 50.5 percent of votes cast in the District 1 race -- 3,372 to 3,302, with 60 ballots left to count. He prevailed in all nine of District 1's voting precincts, and with a combined 548-vote advantage from those precincts, overcame his opponent's combined 478-vote advantage in District 2 (Orcas) and District 3 (Lopez/Shaw).
Beginning with the charter changes approved in November, Jarman believes voters are restless for change. Like McClerren, he also drew the endorsement and support from Trust Islanders! support and endorsement.
"I think people want change or were just frustrated by the ways things were going," he said. "The majority I think want to see some change and have someone take a fresh look at things."
Much like Jarman, Hughes came in second in February's three-way primary, trailing Lisa Byers, making a first-ever bid for public office, by nearly 20 percent. He anticipated that supporters of council candidate Greg Ayers, eliminated in the primary, were likely jump on his bandwagon. If they did, Hughes thought his chance of winning a close race would be good.
Claiming 51 percent of votes cast in the District 2 race, Hughes prevailed in his bid for reelection by 148 votes. While Byers, director of Orcas Island's affordable housing group, Of People and Land, garnered a 388-vote combined advantage in District 3's four voting precincts, Hughes eclipsed that with gaining 331 more votes on San Juan Island and 205 more on Orcas.
"I'm thrilled with Orcas West's support for me and with Eastsound too," he said. "And my hat's off to San Juan Island, they're a lot of the reason why I'm here."