Though they faced a challenge, the five incumbents running as a ticket under the name Team Laurel were all re-elected to serve two-year terms on the Laurel City Council, based on the election night unofficial count Tuesday.
Incumbents Michael Leszcz, who was running for re-election to the at-large seat; Valerie Nicholas and H. Edward Ricks, both of Ward 1; and Donna Crary and Frederick Smalls of Ward 2 were re-elected by a comfortable margin, likely rendering totals from absentee and provisional ballots inconsequential.
The incumbents unofficially defeated three challengers: at-large candidate Adrian Rousseau, Ward 1 challenger John Mathew Smith and Ward 2 challenger Thomas Matthews.
In all, 1,033 people voted in Laurel, mostly on Tuesday, though 106 took advantage of an early voting opportunity on Saturday, Nov. 2.
In the at-large race, Leszcz took 604 votes to Rousseau's citywide tally of 389. In Ward 1, Nicholas with 430, and Ricks with 410 fended off the challenge by Smith, who garnered 149 votes. In Ward 2, Crary, with 335, and Smalls, with 288, out-polled challenger Matthews, who took 218 votes.
The maximum possible number of absentee ballots is 99, including 44 from Ward 1 and 55 from Ward 2. In Ward 1 there were 10 provisional ballots, which are filled out by people whose names do not show up on the list of registered voters at the polls on election day. They will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The number of provisional ballots for Ward 2 was unavailable Tuesday night.
Incumbents feel ‘relief'
The incumbents celebrated their victory at a viewing party held at the Cabana House at the Greenview Drive Pool complex. While all five incumbents said they were elated with the news, they all added that the win was also a relief.
“It was hard fought, but it's a relief that all of us got back in,” Crary said in a phone interview. “It's a team effort and the voters accepted the team. What's really important is that we took the high road and ran a positive campaign. The opponents were very negative and it shows the good guys won.”
Leszcz, elected for a ninth term, said the victory “was right up there” with any other election win. Although Leszcz was elated with the win, he was disappointed in the overall turnout.
“I don't know what else we can do to get more people to come out. It would be nice to have more people involving themselves in the process,” he said.
Smalls said he was frustrated by what he called the challengers' efforts to put out misinformation.
Ricks said the incumbents were “vindicated” by the win, and added that “the people spoke.
Nicholas said she was excited but “glad it's over.”
All the incumbents said they plan to pursue their campaign promise to lower the real estate tax rate.
Challengers could return
Rousseau said “Are you serious? Wow, wow,” when alerted of the results by phone on Tuesday evening.
Despite his reaction, Rousseau, who carried Ward 2 over Leszcz, 231-191, said he was not disappointed by the overall result that had him finishing out of the winners circle.
“I'd only be disappointed had I not gone through with the race,” he said.
Rousseau, who was also defeated by Leszcz in the at-large race in 2011, said he would run again if he felt the council did not provide adequate support to the Laurel Boys and Girls Club, which was his principal issue during the campaign.
“This is a good opportunity to see if they are going to follow through as they said they were,” he said of the incumbents. “If they don't, they will see me again in two years.”
Matthews declined to be interviewed on Tuesday evening.
Smith said he was not surprised he didn't win.
“I know in politics sometimes the first time you run you don't win. That's been the rule of thumb and it proved true this time,” he said.
Smith said he would consider another run in two years but will stay active in the interim.
“I might give it another shot,” he said. “I think I'm going to spend more time at council meetings and see how that works. … Hopefully, I put some good ideas into the public debate and gave people something to think about.”
This story has been updated.