Voters cast their ballots at the Civic Auditorium Tuesday. Ned Jilton II photo.
KINGSPORT — Model City voters stuck with the status quo in Tuesday’s city election, returning Mayor Dennis Phillips to a fifth term in office, re-electing two current aldermen and essentially replacing Alderwoman Valerie Joh with her daughter.
However, the mayor’s victory Tuesday night was by no means a landslide. According to election results, Phillips received 2,462 votes (57 percent) while his opponent Gary Lane received 1,842 votes (42.8 percent).
“I’ve got mixed feelings (about the results). I feel great to have the opportunity to keep a great city moving forward, but the margin of victory is not what I hoped for,” Phillips said. “But when you’re running against the fire department and a certain amount of negativity ... there was some tough opposition and all of the negatives seemed to be running against me.”
Lane, a Domtar electrician who was annexed by the city of Kingsport three years, is a newcomer to Kingsport politics, launching his first run for office against a four-term, progressive and seemingly popular mayor.
On his first time out, Lane received more votes than any other challenger to Phillips over the past decade and he did so on less than $1,000, according to the latest financial report.
Phillips thanked his supporters Tuesday night and said he believes the voters elected a positive Board of Mayor and Aldermen who will be able to work together and try to make the people even more proud of Kingsport.
“It’s a win, but I’m going to pick myself up, have a talk with myself to see if I’m going to continue with the time, effort and hours I have put in,” Phillips said.
Some people had thought voters in the newly annexed areas of Colonial Heights and Rock Springs could make a difference in the BMA race Tuesday night, with such issues as annexation, debt, school consolidation and the aquatic center pushing voters toward the challengers.
But in the end, the difference was apparently not enough and the people of the Model City chose to go with the incumbents and a fairly well-known successor to a long-term member of the BMA.
Healthcare executive John Clark topped the other candidates in votes Tuesday night with 2,786. Tuesday’s election was the first for Clark, who was appointed by the BMA last year to serve out the remaining term of Ben Mallicote.
Vice-Mayor Tom Parham, elected to the BMA four years ago, received the second highest vote count on Tuesday with 2,589.
“I’m humbled and pleased there was 2,500 people who had confidence in me,” Parham said. “This was a much tougher race with five people with different interests, backgrounds and agendas, but I believe we all came together and learned to be friends. There were more debates, more forums and questions ... more general activity. It was a great process and one I thoroughly enjoyed.”
As far as Lane’s showing in the mayoral race, Parham believes there is a message with the results.
“As great a job as Dennis has done, there’s a message there,” Parham said. “Maybe it’s time for a change, to bring in new blood and do things a little differently. I think that’s part of the message.”
Colette George, daughter of Joh, filled out the third spot with 2,489 votes in Tuesday’s election. George currently serves on the Kingsport Regional Planning Commission and recently succeeded Joh as president of Blue Ridge Properties.
Though Linda Buckles raised an impressive amount of money for the BMA race — $14,000 during the first reporting period alone — the donations did not translate into enough votes to gain a seat on the board.
Buckles, a retired school teacher and member of the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee, received 2,015 votes in Tuesday’s election, placing her fourth in the alderman’s race.
Rounding out the field in Tuesday’s alderman race was Eric Kerney, with 1,651 votes. Kerney, another newcomer to Kingsport politics and recently annexed by the city, basically ran a self-funded campaign.
Kerney publicly voiced his opposition to the aquatic center project, said he believes annexation should only take place through referendum and criticized the city on its current debt levels.
The message apparently did not resonate with Model City voters.
The unofficial count on Tuesday saw 4,440 voters in Kingsport go to the polls — roughly 15 percent of the city’s 28,881 registered voters.