SALISBURY — Mayor Paul Woodson held onto his office by 23 votes Tuesday night, and only 33 votes separated the top three candidates for Salisbury City Council.
All five incumbents easily won re-election.
Woodson earned 1,951 votes to beat Maggie Blackwell, who squeaked by for another term as mayor pro tem. Blackwell had 1,928 votes, just 10 more than Karen Alexander with 1,918.
Councilman William “Pete” Kennedy had 1,802 votes, and Councilman Brian Miller came in fifth with 1,610.
By winning re-election for an 11th term, Kennedy, 73, has tied the late L.F. Cox as the longest-serving city councilman in Salisbury’s history. Kennedy first won election in 1993 and for almost all of that time has been the only African-American on the five-member body.
William Peoples, who first ran for City Council in 2009, was the top runner-up Tuesday night with 984 votes. Political newcomer Rick Honeycutt earned 745 votes, and Blake Jarman had 518 votes in his third attempt to win a seat on the council.
Dale Stephens, who didn’t campaign, had 257 votes.
“It was absolutely nerve-wracking,” said Woodson, who was in second place for most of the night. “When that last precinct came in, I just couldn’t believe it.”
The small crowd watching the returns come in at the Rowan County Administrative Building erupted into applause for Woodson as the final results appeared on the screen.
“It was just total jubilation,” he said. “It was like this two years ago.”
In 2011, Woodson surprised many by beating Salisbury’s longest-serving mayor, Susan Kluttz, by 35 votes. Blackwell came in third, 39 votes behind Kluttz. That year, only 74 votes separated the top three candidates.
“I’m excited about being re-elected and excited about the council I have,” Woodson said Tuesday night.
He credited the council, City Manager Doug Paris and other city employees for his success.
“They make me look good,” Woodson said. “I take very little credit.”
Tuesday’s election was a vote of confidence from Salisbury residents that the city is headed in the right direction, he said. By re-electing all five incumbents, Woodson said, voters have signaled support for Fibrant, downtown redevelopment and a business-friendly climate and permitting process.
The city will continue on its current path, he said, and City Council will continue to pursue the proposed downtown school central office and try to find a way to work with Rowan County commissioners.
“I’ve worked really hard in the past two years and tried to be a good mayor,” said Woodson, who added he’s made several hundred appearances and delivered more than 150 speeches as mayor.
He thanked voters for their support.
Alexander, who was appointed to the council by Woodson after Kluttz became the state secretary of cultural resources, won her first election Tuesday night and rushed into the county building after results proclaimed her victory.
“I can’t believe I did it,” Alexander said as she hugged Woodson.
Later, Alexander said she was thankful that the incumbents had challengers during the campaign to “sharpen our skills and focus on what’s important.”
An architect, Alexander attributed her win to an appreciation in Salisbury for the planning process and said she hopes to encourage even more people to participate in planning for the city’s future.
“I hope during my next term to focus on citizen engagement,” she said. “We need citizens to help make the solutions for what ails their neighborhoods.”
Blackwell said she was not disappointed to lose the mayor’s seat by 23 votes and was thrilled to hold onto the mayor pro tem’s office, which she said she loves. Many voters feel the city is headed in the right direction, Blackwell said.
“At the risk of sounding overconfident, I feel like it was a vote of confidence,” she said.
Blackwell echoed many candidates when she said it is an honor to be selected to serve.
“It truly is a public honor that none of us takes for granted,” she said.
Peoples, the top challenger, said he felt good about his campaign and did the best he could.
“As much as I would like to have been on City Council, I’m not about to go anywhere and I will still be there to try to hold city officials accountable and do whatever I can to try to bring about change,” he said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.