Hollar tops Hallsmith, re-elected Montpelier mayor
By AMY ASH NIXON
Staff writer | March 05,2014
MONTPELIER — Incumbent Mayor John Hollar defeated challenger and ex-city employee Gwendolyn Hallsmith by a more than 2-1 margin on Tuesday night, and thanked city voters for their confidence in handing him a second term. He was reelected mayor with 1,525 votes to Hallsmith’s 782.
“I think we tried to run a positive campaign and I think that resonated with voters,” said Hollar, calling from a celebration party after the results were in at City Hall.
He said the city manager had given him a call on his cellphone, letting him know the results.
Hollar said he appreciated the voter confidence “and I will take that as support for the direction the council and I have been taking the past two years.”
“We have a great city council,” said Hollar. “I look forward to working with Councilors Bate and Turcotte,” he said.
Donna Bate was elected to the council to represent District 1, with 401 votes to Andy Hooper’s 357; in District 2, Thierry Guerlain took the seat with 441 votes, beating out two contenders, Page Guertin, who captured 315 votes, and Ivan Shadis who received 69 votes.
And in District 3, Justin Turcotte beat out Dan Jones in a vote of 394 to 278.
Hallsmith, the city’s former planning and community development director who lost her job late last year in a highly publicized struggle over her out-of-office advocacy for a Vermont State Bank, took the news well. She said she was very happy that the article on the state banking issue had passed with such strong support in Montpelier, by a vote of 1,629 to 697, and had also found support in other communities.
Hallsmith was parked in front of City Hall all day in the freezing cold, and was defrosting in the minutes before the results were tallied, sitting on a bench just inside City Hall. “I don’t think it got up to zero until about 10 a.m.,” she said. She stood outside holding her sign and said she heard many good wishes from voters, and had some people thank her for standing up for her rights, sharing stories of struggles they had been through.
Even a minute after the results were shared, Hallsmith was smiling. “I met a lot of people who came up to me and told me they had voted for me and gave me the thumbs-up,” she said. “My doing this helped them,” she said. She said she wished the city well, and, looking at the outcome of some City Council races, said she would have had a hard time as mayor with some of the council members.
“I can’t imagine trying to be mayor of that group,” she said, looking at the just-posted results at City Hall.
Hallsmith was saddened that the school budget had been defeated, saying, “I’m really disappointed that the school budget failed. Montpelier prides itself on its good schools.”
Hallsmith pointed to what she calls the “Chai Party,” which she said is Montpelier’s version of the Tea Party, as being behind the school budget defeat.
Though she lost by a lot, Hallsmith said having given the voters a choice was her goal, and she did that and took part in the Democratic process.
Of Hollar, she said, “I wish him well and I wish Montpelier well, “That’s why I ran. They’ve made their choice and it’s all good,” she said of the election’s outcome.
“I was helping make the Democratic process work by making sure there was a choice for the people. I did that and I feel good about that,” said Hallsmith.
The city budget passed handily, 1,752 to 574, settling a spending plan for the coming year of $7,406,787.
The big news Tuesday was the voters’ rejection of the school budget, an unprecedented event in recent memory according to observers at City Hall. The proposed budget of $17,985,069 was narrowly shot down, with 1,130 voters voting for the spending plan and 1,211 against, a difference of 81 votes.
Hollar, a longtime school board member, said the school board would have to work hard to address the budget defeat, contending the issues are more at the state level than the local level with declining enrollments leading to higher education costs.
“I understand the challenges that the school board faces,” said Hollar, saying there are issues “beyond the control of our local school board. I know they are going to be working hard. ...This raises broader issues that go beyond Montpelier and hopefully the Legislature will address some of these systemic issues that are driving the school budgets.”
Hollar was camped out at City Hall at 7:30 a.m. and spent the day there. “It was a long, cold day,” he said. “It’s not about getting votes, it’s about telling people that you’re committed.”
Of the coming term, Hollar said, “We’ve got a lot on our plate with the development of the Carr Lot, getting the district heating system up and running and getting the bike path going.”
Hollar said that parking in Montpelier continues to be a challenge. Addressing that and continuing to invest in the downtown will be among his priorities. “We’re going to have our hands full,” he said.