Six months and 23 days after its last mayor was removed from office because of a felony corruption conviction, Bayou la Batre elected someone to fulfill his term. Retired ship builder Brett Dungan beat former city councilman and truck driver Henry Barnes in a runoff election Sept. 24 by a preliminary vote of 297-233.
“The exciting thing is that we had people come to the polls that hadn’t voted in years,” the mayor-elect said, as he was exchanging congratulatory hugs in the town’s community center moments after the results were announced. “People are energized about the future and ready for the healing process to begin.”
Dungan is the first new mayor in the bayou in nearly a decade. Former mayor Stanley Wright is currently serving a 15-month sentence at a federal prison in Texas after being convicted on four charges including theft of federal funds, witness intimidation and retaliation. Barnes was a vocal opponent of Wright’s during his own tenure on the council, but the runoff indicated the town was ready for some fresh blood.
“I’m happy,” Barnes said afterward. “[Wright’s] indictment came down more than two years ago and it’s time to move on. As far as the vote, I’m relieved. It’s probably more fun being on the outside.”
County Commissioner Jerry Carl was also pleased with the results, although he said he supported both candidates at times.
“I’ll be excited about having somebody to work with and get some things started,” he said. “I’ve been in office for 10 months while the city has been in jeopardy. Both me and Sen. (Bill) Hightower have been working on some things in the meantime but it will be helpful to have an advocate in the mayor’s office.”
City Councilman George Ramires, who was a candidate himself in the primary, was also relieved the race was over.
“It’s time to move forward and put our troubles behind us,” he said. “The next three years is going to be tough and I hope Brett can get us some of the BP money we deserve.”
For 60 days after Wright’s conviction, the City Council had the opportunity to appoint a mayor but was unable to reach a consensus. By law, the Governor then had 30 days to appoint where upon expiration, a special election will be coordinated by the county.
While Bentley initially notified the county of his intention not to appoint on April 30, he formerly declined a month later, setting the stage for the special election.
“It’s better the people got an opportunity to choose anyway,” Carl said.
Dungan will be sworn-in at City Hall Thursday, Oct. 3 at 6 p.m.