Mayor Ruth Elliott's name never appeared on the ballot, but she still suffered a loss in Tuesday's election.
Aberdeen voters dealt her a serious blow by electing the two incumbents to the City Council, overwhelmingly rejecting her staunch political ally, a former county councilwoman and state delegate.
In a year characterized by political mudslinging in Aberdeen's City Hall, voters turned out in record numbers to reelect Macon L. Tucker Jr., who received 1,286 votes, and Ron Kupferman, with 1,179 votes. The sole challenger, Barbara O. Kreamer, garnered 462.
About 30 percent of eligible voters, an unusually high turnout for a nonmayoral election, cast ballots for the two slots on the council, made up of the mayor and four council members. Their two-year terms are staggered.
"It's a clear mandate," Mr. Kupferman said. "The people have spoken, and I feel the resounding victory shows that the voters believe the council has acted correctly in the recent personnel issues -- quite in contrast to the mayor."
Mr. Kupferman was referring to the much-publicized political tug-of-war between Mrs. Elliott and council members over the mayor's power under the city's new charter. Aberdeen switched from a commission government to a charter government a year ago.
This year, Mrs. Elliott launched an investigation of the police chief and his department, amid allegations of mismanagement and improper bookkeeping -- over the objections of City Council members and the city manager.
Then, Mrs. Elliott put the chief, John R. Jolley, on paid administrative leave for a month beginning March 2 -- a move that infuriated the entire council -- only to reinstate him two weeks later.
The dispute at City Hall centered on whether Mrs. Elliott had authority to investigate the police department and put its chief on administrative leave.
Council members claim the city charter clearly states that department head inquiries should be dealt with by the city administrator, Peter Dacey.
Mrs. Elliott has since turned over responsibility for supervising all department heads to Mr. Dacey, and a committee is clarifying some of the charter language.
Throughout the controversy, Mrs. Elliott maintained she was only doing what she had been elected to do -- working for the good of the city.
Could the vote against Mrs. Kreamer Tuesday signal voter dissatisfaction with the mayor and her actions?
"There's always that possibility," Mrs. Elliott said. "I'm protecting the city, and if that means I have to be a scapegoat, so be it. I don't care what anyone thinks, as long as I know I'm doing the best job I can."
Mrs. Kreamer, who was Mrs. Elliott's campaign treasurer during last year's mayoral election, blamed her loss on bad publicity she received in the local press.
"I was portrayed as being a behind-the-scenes manipulator," she said. "That's just not true. I ran to serve the city."
Mrs. Kreamer called the election results a "triumph of mediocrity" but said the election and voter turnout demonstrate heightened interest among the electorate.
"At least we had a real election in Aberdeen, one in which the incumbents' hard campaigning was paid off with a big vote," she said.
"Sixteen hundred people have spoken, and that's the democratic way," Mrs. Elliott said. "I hope that everyone will now band together and do the work we were elected to do."
Mr. Kupferman and Mr. Tucker said banding together also is foremost in their minds.
Like his colleague, Mr. Tucker said he believes the people of Aberdeen tried to send the mayor a message by electing the incumbents.
But he and Mr. Kupferman agreed it's time to put the past behind them and get on with the business of governing the city.