Incumbent Fort Mill Town Councilman Larry Huntley was re-elected to a third term in a lopsided contest, according to unofficial election results.
Huntley defeated challenger Julia Beilsmith with 253 votes to her 50. The vote is scheduled to be certified Thursday. Even though Fort Mill has council wards, voting in the town is at-large, meaning all registered voters within town limits could have cast a ballot.
There were 17 absentee ballots cast that were not counted by press time.
“I wasn’t worried, but there are so many unknowns and I kept waiting for another shoe to fall, like a real professional campaign to roll out, but it never happened,” Huntley, 76, said about the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s election.
“I made about 500 [campaign] phone calls and everyone seemed enthusiastic, but you never know what’s going to happen.”
Beilsmith, 34, who worked 15 years for state and local government in Tampa, Fla., before moving to Fort Mill less than two years ago, said she was surprised by the low voter turnout. Only 3.46 percent of the town’s 9,277 voters cast ballots.
“I felt that there was enough unrest in the community with the letters I got and emails I got, that more more people would come out, so I guess I’m a little surprised,” she said.
“I guess people are satisfied with the way [the town council] is doing business. They were given a choice and didn’t make a change.”
Name recognition was in Huntley’s favor, Beilsmith said.
“Being a newcomer to the community I don’t have the the ties of 30 years that Larry has,” said Beilsmith, an engineer with a Huntersville, N.C., water and waste water company who lives in the Springfield community.
Huntley first won his council seat in a 2007 special election – by 18 votes – and then ran uncontested for re-election to a second, full term two years later. He said he sees “growth and traffic” as the two biggest issues facing the town.
However, “most people don’t realize that as a council, we don’t have much control over growth outside city limits, that that’s in the county’s control,” he said. “There are so many houses [just] outside Fort Mill, if all those houses were gone, we wouldn’t have a [traffic] problem.”
Recently, town officials discussed the possibility of annexing the Indian Land portion of Fort Mill Township into town limits, but Huntley said he’s “lukewarm” to the idea and doesn’t think the town council will take it too far.
“For one thing, if you look at the populations, they would have six wards and they would outvote us on our own council,” he said.
“It would be like Pineville annexing Charlotte.”
Despite the easy re-election, Huntley said he’s not taking anything for granted.
“There wasn’t a concrete issue to bring voters to the polls and while I wasn’t to think it’s the stupendous job I’ve been doing, that’s not really true,” he joked. “While it was a landslide, I’m going to renew my efforts to be a voice for my constituents and redouble that effort because we’re there to serve them.”
Huntley, who said he prides himself on not accepting campaign donations, said he spent $700 on his re-election bid.
“My wife calls me cheap, but I prefer ‘frugal,’” he joked. “I had all my signs left over from my first campaign.”
Among his goals for his new term, Huntley said he wants Council to negotiate more public park space, including requiring playing fields for recreation sports from developers when they build new subdivisions.
Fort Mill Town Council incumbents Nathan Blythe and Guynn Savage ran unopposed for their seats. By law, they did not have to appear on the ballot to be re-elected. Council members serve four-year terms.