While it wasn’t immediately clear who a majority of voters would elect as Bayou la Batre’s next mayor after a special election Aug. 13, a canvass of provisional ballots one week later assured that residents would have to return the polls one more time.
If at least 39 of the 45 provisional ballots were validated and cast in retired businessman Brett Dungan’s favor, there was a possibility he could have won the election outright. But after verifying their eligibility Aug. 20, the Mobile County Canvassing Board struck 21 of those ballots and Dungan only won 21 of the remaining 24. Finishing with 48.8 percent of the vote, Dungan was then forced into a Sept. 24 runoff with Henry Barnes.
Barnes, who fell just 12 votes short of defeating three-term incumbent mayor Stan Wright last November, said he welcomed the runoff. And because it will coincide with the congressional primary, there may be a larger turnout.
“This will be my fourth runoff, so it’s not exactly new territory,” Barnes said. “Usually an election in Bayou la Batre will draw about 700 voters and this time we only had 500, so I think that may work in my favor.”
Barnes said he has been endorsed by former candidate Sylvia Raley, who garnered 51 votes in the special election. The other candidate, Bayou la Batre City Councilman George Ramires, finished with 74 votes, including provisional ballots.
Meanwhile, Dungan assumed the majority of provisional and absentee ballots were cast in his favor because he engaged in an active get-out-the-vote campaign. Probate Judge Don Davis, who has unusual oversight over the municipal election, said the fact that nearly 10 percent of Bayou la Batre’s ballots were cast provisionally was not out of the ordinary.
Davis also said the town may be asked to reimburse the county for its expenses, which could be as much as $15,000. The City Council had an opportunity to appoint a mayor after Wright was convicted on felony corruption charges and removed from office in April, but failed to do so. Gov. Robert Bentley also declined to use his statutory authority to appoint a mayor, which sent the decision to the voters.
Of the total of 500 ballots cast, Dungan had 244 votes and Barnes had 131, While Raley and Ramires were both optimistic about their campaigns going into the election, perhaps it was their perceived relationship with the former mayor that resulted in their lack of support at the polls.
Raley is a former city councilwoman and Wright-appointee to the city’s Utilities Board while Ramires served alongside the mayor for three terms on the City Council. In public meetings after Wright’s conviction, residents denounced Ramires and then-candidate Ida Mae Coleman as being complicit with Wright, who was charged with stealing federal grant money and intimidating a former police captain. Coleman’s campaign was derailed last month after she failed to file all the necessary paperwork by deadline.
Dungan said after the special election he was just pleased to see the small city of 2,500 residents closer to moving past Wright’s conviction and removal from office.
“There has been a lot of factions and friction and it’s time our town came together for some healing,” he said. “The turnout is a little bit less than we anticipated, but the exciting thing is not the results. This election got a lot of people energized and I observed many people coming out that hadn’t voted before. We’re all excited and confident about the moving the town forward.”
That sentiment was echoed by lifetime Bayou la Batre resident Jeff Ladnier, who waited after the polls closed to see the results but declined to disclose who he supported.
“I’m just looking for somebody to take care of the town and people and project a different image for the city,” he said. “There is a lot of opportunity to grow the city on the water and it should be so much more than it is today. I look forward to a change.”
Barnes meanwhile said he wasn’t discouraged by the results and would welcome a runoff with Dungan.
“I’m not surprised and I have nothing bad to say about him,” he said. “But I’ve got a little more experience so I look forward to it.”
Barnes, a former shrimp net maker who currently operates a dump truck, served a single term on the city council ending in 2008, but has always been a vocal member of the community.
Because the Sept. 24 congressional primary is also a special election, there will be two separate ballots for voters in Bayou la Batre. The next mayor will complete the term vacated by Wright and if contested, must run for re-election in 2016.