Steele new mayor in Cleveland
By Kathy Chaffin
CLEVELAND ó Former town commissioner John I. Steele Jr. had to teach a class at the Hickory campus of Appalachian State University Tuesday night and couldn’t be at Town Hall to hear the election results firsthand.
So his wife, Joy, showed up on his behalf and called him on her cell phone to share the good news. With 153 votes, Steele had been elected the town’s new mayor, replacing seven-term Mayor Jim Brown, who opted not to run for re-election.
“I just can’t believe it,” Steele said in a telephone interview later Tuesday night. “I’m just very excited and very pleased and eager to get to work. I’m really appreciative of the people of Cleveland who supported me.”
Steele said he still had to call his students and let them know he won. “They’ve been so supportive the whole time,” he said. “It’s just a nice class.”
He also planned to e-mail his Irish friend, John Huddleston, who lives in Killyleagh in northern Ireland. Their friendship ultimately led to the 2008 twinning of Cleveland and Killyleagh.
Joy Steele said Huddleston called their house at about 5 a.m. Tuesday wanting to know the election results.
Aubrey H. Junker Jr., who lost to Steele in his first bid for public office, heard the results at the Cleveland Town Hall at just before 8 p.m. He received 40 votes.
“I would congratulate John,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll do a fine job. Compared to John, I’m the newcomer in town even though I’ve been around a while.
“If nothing else, hopefully I made it more interesting … There’s always next time is the way I look at it.”
Junker and his family have lived in Cleveland for a total of 10 years, leaving for three years in between so their children could attend a private school in Concord. He works as an independent business consultant.
Steele was born and raised in Cleveland, returning to his hometown after retiring from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel.
In the Cleveland Board of Commissioners race, newcomer Travis Summitt was elected to the seat vacated by Steele, who served eight terms on the board, while incumbents Danny Gabriel and Pat Phifer were re-elected.
Gabriel, current mayor pro tem, was the top vote-getter with 118 votes, followed by Phifer with 114. Summitt, in his second bid for the town board, came in third with 101 votes, followed by Leonard “Max” West, also in his second bid, with 72; newcomer John Brown with 68; and Preston Young, another newcomer, with 56.
Gabriel, elected to his fourth term, said the 194 voter turnout was good for a nonpartisan election year. As for being the top vote-getter, he said that was consistent with previous elections.
A machine operator for Performance Fibers, he congratulated all the other candidates for running a good race.
Summitt, who lost in an earlier bid for the town board, said while waiting outside of Town Hall for the votes to be tallied, “This has been one of the longest days of my life.”
“I appreciate everyone who voted for me,” he said after the results were announced. “I really do, and look forward to serving the people of Cleveland.”
An offline mechanic for Freightliner, Summit has served on the town’s planning and zoning committee for five years and as a volunteer firefighter for Cleveland for six years. He is presently on the fire department’s board of directors.
Phifer, when contacted by telephone Tuesday night, had not yet heard the election results and asked, “Did I win?”
After hearing the results, he offered his welcome to Summit. “He wants to work hard,” Phifer said, “and I know the rest of us have worked hard and tried to do the right things. I thank everybody who voted for me.”
Phifer, who was elected to his fifth term, is co-owner of 4-R Recyling.
Young, who works as a licensed electrician, said of the results, “The people pretty much said what they wanted, so I’m good with it.”
As for running again, he said, “When the time comes around, we’ll look at it and see.”
Brown and West could not be reached for comment. Brown, who is retired as an Army lieutenant colonel, is the senior Army JROTC instructor at West Forsyth High School in Clemmons.
West, retired as an infantry officer and finance officer for the Army, works for Hershey Meters.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.