MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — At times tumultous and contentious, but the voters who took the time to vote in Tuesday’s Morgantown City Council race gave the incumbents their seal of approval — sending five of the seven incumbents back for another term.
Coincidentally, those incumbents were the only five actively campaigning.
Rachel Fetty, Mayor Bill Kawecki, Deputy Mayor Jenny Selin, Ron Dulaney Jr., and Barry Lee Wendell all won with reasonably comfortable margins. Selin and Dulaney both ran unopposed in the fourth and fifth wards, respectively.
Zach Cruze, a write-in candidate in the third ward, won more than 51 percent of the vote in a bizarre third ward race that featured three write-in candidates and an incumbent who dropped out of the race, but too late for his name to be removed from the ballot.
Ryan Wallace, first elected in 2017 while attending WVU School of Law, announced in late March that he would be withdrawing from the race to pursue a job opportunity in Toronto, Canada.
After the announcement, Wallace endorsed Richard Dumas, a retired member of the financial service industry. Dumas finished fourth in the four-way race with 9.1 percent of the vote, trailing Wallace himself, former councilor Wes Nugent, and Cruze.
“I’m just thankful to the residents of Morgantown,” Cruze said. “I got out there and I met and I talked to as many people as I could. That’s the type of councilor I’m going to be.”
Cruze became the first ever write-in candidate to win a city council election in Morgantown. He’ll be joined by fellow newcomer Dave Harshbarger, who defeated former councilor Jay Redmond comfortably in the sixth ward, claiming 65.1 percent of the vote on what was technically council’s only open seat.
Mark Brazaitis, a WVU professor who was elected to his seat in 2017, chose not to run for re-election. Brazaitis was noted in his two years for his strong support of the controversial attempted acquisition of Haymaker Forest, his efforts to find funding anywhere for area recreation, a write-in candidacy for the 2018 U.S. Senate election, and a strange overnight disappearance that led to a manhunt and Brazaitis’ eventual hospitalization.
Fetty, who made a name for herself by nearly becoming the first ever write-in candidate to win election in Morgantown in 2015, won her second term by comfortably defeating former councilman Ron Bane in the first ward, collecting 1,000 of a 1,583 votes — good for 63.2 percent of the voters.
“I think my campaigning is not my favorite thing to do,” she said. “My favorite thing to do is actually just do the work, and I’m looking forward to another two years of that.”
Turnout was low — more in line with a typical election in the city — compared to 2017, when 15 percent of registered voters cast ballots.
1,630 residents cast ballots, significantly down from the highwater mark of 2,724 in 2017.
“I’m grateful to the voters for taking the time out of their day to show up,” Fetty said. “I wish our turnout was better. We’re just going to have to keep working on some kind of solution to address that.”
Kawecki, the second longest serving member of council behind Jenny Selin, was involved in the closest race of the night — facing off with former Monongalia County Board of Education President Barbara Parsons.
“I offered her the opportunity to participate in any way she would like,” Kawecki said. “There are numbers of committees that I have that would be available to her should she choose to do that.”
Barry Wendell faced a late write-in challenge, but the seventh ward councilor comfortably defeated local businessman Todd Stainbrooke by capturing 73.9 percent of the vote.
Due to write-in tallies not being counted until the very end of the process, Wendell wound up being the last incumbent to learn his fate.