There was a seismic shift in Danville city government Tuesday night as Bernie Hunstad defeated Jamey Gay in the mayoral election and all but one incumbent on the city commission fell to challengers.
Hunstad, who came onto the scene as a first time candidate for city office during the primary, beat current commissioner and mayor pro-tem Jamey Gay 2,617 votes to 2,327 in a hotly contested runoff.
Hunstad ran largely against Gay’s record as a commissioner, including the handling of the new city hall and police building where his new office will be located. However, he said it was time to look forward.
Hunstad acknowledged that the tone of politics and public discourse had become toxic and said he was pleased that Kevin Caudill, the lone incumbent on the commission to survive, would remain to provide some continuity.
“We need to start the healing process, and that is something I am ready to do,” Hunstad said. “It has been a divisive time, not just in city government, but in the town as a whole. I want to make sure we all start pulling together.”
Hunstad said he was more confident up until two weeks ago that he would prevail, but gave credit to Gay for effectively getting his message out as the campaign drew to a close. He said Gay had reached out offering his support, and said he may call on his wealth of knowledge gained during 10 years on the commission.
Gay said he was disappointed by the outcome of the vote, but not by the way he ran the race.
“I had a lot of great people who worked very hard for this campaign that I have to thank,” Gay said. “I am very happy and proud that we ran a positive campaign from the very beginning.”
Gay, who ran unsuccessfully against outgoing mayor Hugh Coomer four years ago, said he hasn’t given much thought to what his future in city politics might hold. The head athletic trainer and assistant athletic director at Centre College said he would continue to be active in local life.
Hunstad’s victory was part of a big shakeup on the city commission.
Incumbents Terry Crowley and Janet Hamner finished 5th and 6th respectively behind J.H. Atkins, who will become mayor pro-tem as the top vote getter, former commissioner Norma Gail Louis, and Ryan Montgomery. Kevin Caudill was the only current commissioner to retain his seat.
Similar to Hunstad, Louis and Montgomery cast themselves as alternatives to a commission out of touch with average citizens.
Louis said the vote went the way it did because people didn’t feel their concerns were heard by the current administration. Although the voters resoundingly voted down the effort to change the form of city government, Louis said a recent attorney general’s opinion may open the door for implementing a ward system that would operate similar to the way voting is handled in county magisterial districts.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the commission race was Montgomery, a local civil engineer running for elected office for the first time.
When the dust settles, Hunstad and the new commission will be in charge of setting the agenda.
Hunstad said his priorities will include bolstering funds to pay planning and zoning employees and addressing existing zoning ordinances. Also high on his to-do list will be trying to find ways to restructure taxes and fees so that the burden for paying for certain services is lightened for the elderly, unemployed and other groups with limited income.
In the only other city race, the Danville Board of Education retained three uncontested seats: Jean K. Crowley, 2,010; Troy K. McCowan, 2,230; Timothy Montgomery, 2,093.