The St. Helena mayoral race between incumbent Alan Galbraith and City Councilmember Geoff Ellsworth was too close to call on election night, with only 16 votes separating the candidates.
Galbraith had 539 votes (50.75 percent) and Ellsworth had 523 votes (49.25 percent) in early results posted at 8:01 p.m. Tuesday night.
Galbraith’s supporters were gathered in his house as the first vote tally was released.
“The initial vote is very close,” Galbraith said, adding that he would issue a statement as soon as the winner is determined.
“I don’t expect that for several days at this point,” he said.
Ellsworth and his supporters were having an election night party at Grace Episcopal Church when the preliminary results came in. Shortly after 8:01 p.m., a group of people gathered about Ellsworth, all looking at their cell phones.
After seeing the results, Ellsworth said, “It looks pretty close. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
When updated results were posted a few hours later, the St. Helena tallies remained the same. More results are scheduled to be posted at 4:30 p.m. Friday and again on Nov. 13 and 14. The outcome of the mayoral race might not be certain until the election is certified the week of Nov. 26.
Even if Ellsworth loses his mayoral bid, he will retain his seat on the City Council.
Galbraith’s campaign emphasized his government experience, including four years as mayor, his role in passing the Measure D sales tax, and his endorsements by regional elected officials.
Ellsworth’s campaign called for new leadership, better management of the city’s water and finances, and more equitable water and wastewater rates.
Measure E, which would raise St. Helena’s hotel taxes by 1 percent to raise money for housing, has 832 votes in favor (78.12 percent) and 233 votes against (21.88 percent). In order to pass, it needs a two-thirds supermajority.
Anna Chouteau and incumbent City Councilmember Paul Dohring are running unopposed for two council seats. Chouteau has 680 votes and Dohring has 696.
Galbraith’s supporters speak out
At Galbraith’s party, Bill Ryan said he’s been “a fan” of the mayor for a couple of years.
“He recognized some of the serious issues we have and got active himself, as a citizen and a leader,” Ryan said. “That was the first time that a lot of people started to be anti-Alan, was when he started to want to do things. We need more people who want to do things.”
Joe McCoy called Galbraith “a wonderful neighbor and an unusually intelligent man that we’re lucky to have willing to be part of our government.”
Galbraith “has been realistic about what’s going on in town from a fiscal perspective,” McCoy said.
At Ellsworth’s party
On Tuesday evening, before any results were known, Ellsworth said he wasn’t predicting the turnout. “I just don’t know. I’m trying to keep an even keel and look at it whichever way it goes.”
He said the St. Helena City Council has done “a lot of good work over the last two years that we’re going to continue. Whichever way the election goes, the core of the council is still going to be there.”
He added the council will move forward on the work plan “without missing a beat. I’m optimistic, we’ve done a good job over the last two years and over the next two years those things will really start coming to fruition.”
During the campaign, Ellsworth said he found out that the St. Helena community, both residents and businesses, “need more focus from local government. There’s more that we can do.”
When asked, Ellsworth said his Tuesday schedule included attending a couple of city meetings, posting a final note on social media for his campaign, swimming at the Health Spa and taking a short nap. Then, he said, he began getting ready for the election night party.
Attending the party was Chris Killion, a five-year resident of St. Helena, who supports Ellsworth. Why? “Because he listens, he researches, he looks into things and he looks at options. I think that’s the biggest thing,” she said. For her the city issues he has investigated included water rates and the city’s retirement contributions. “He doesn’t just sit back without looking at the issue,” she said.
Former St. Helena businessman Norm Manzer said he supports Ellsworth, even though he can’t vote in the city election, since he lives outside the city limits. “Sitting on the sidelines, observing what’s been taking place in town, I think Geoff is a breath of fresh air that our community needs,” said Manzer, who has lived in the area for the past 45 years. “I think Geoff has got the energy and the thought process that I would like to see in our mayor.”
When asked for an election prediction, Tom Belt said he had no idea, but added he’s supporting Ellsworth because “I would really like to have a change. I would like to have a mayor who is open-minded and willing to take information and input from the residents of St. Helena, rather than being close minded all the time.”
He added he’s interesting in having a mayor “who is willing to listen to the residents.” The city council’s obligation is “to represent the residents of St. Helena and I don’t believe that Alan has done that in many of his decisions,” including the Las Alcobas, Beringer and CIA projects.
Belt added he thinks Galbraith “is basically a very good man. I think he tries very hard and he’s doing what he thinks is best, but I have a disagreement with that.”
St. Helena Star editor David Stoneberg contributed to this article.