CHARLES TOWN – Charles Town voters elected an ample slate of first-time political campaigners to help lead the city over the next four years.
At the top of the ballot, Bob Trainor, who was twice elected to the council before he was appointed in 2019 to serve two years of an unexpired term as mayor, won his first campaign for mayor by 49 votes. Trainor, a retired Coast Guard service member who spent an active two years as the appointed mayor, edged out first-term council member Todd Coyle, a lifelong city resident who ran his first campaign for mayor.
Meanwhile, four out of five Charles Town City Council candidates—including incumbent Rikki Twyford, a 16-year city resident who was appointed 19 months ago to serve an unexpired council term—won their first ballot-box bids during a municipal election that ended last Thursday.
That outcome leaves Michael George, who won his
second election to the council running unopposed last Thursday, the most senior member of eight currently serving council members.
“We’ve got some new faces on the council,” Trainor said after the election. “That’s going to be interesting. I’m looking forward to working with those folks.”
The first time council candidates won prevailed in the election are Elizabeth Ricketts, a social media specialist and a 2015 graduate of Shepherd University; banker Jeff Hynes and community volunteer Julie Philabaum, who has been serving on the city’s tree board and parks and recreation commission.
Ricketts defeated three-term council member Chet Hines, a native Charles Town resident and retired government worker. Hynes out-polled Kevin Tester, a former Charles Town Utility Board member who was appointed to the council a year ago. Philabaum ran unopposed.
A mineral commodities expert with the U.S. Geological Survey, George was initially appointed to fill an unexpired term on the council in 2016 before he won his first election a year later. Sitting council members Jean Petti, a businesswoman, and Jim Kratovil, a trial lawyer, won their first tries for council two years ago.
Yet another political newcomer could rise onto the City Council. One of the first actions the new council will face will be selecting someone to serve two remaining years on a four-year term for Ward 2.
Trainor praised all of the candidates for working hard to uphold an issue-oriented, constructive-minded focus for the nonpartisan municipal election. “There’s so much division and divisiveness with the whole national scene and that kind of stuff,” he said. “We didn’t have that here. That’s what’s so great about our town, I think.”
Coyle, who said he ran for mayor as a way to serve the city rather than to oppose Trainor, also said he appreciated how all of this year’s candidates remained focused on how they can best serve the city. “That was the biggest thing that I noticed—everybody was about community first,” he said.
In addition to deciding how to spend $2.5 million coming to the city in federal economic stimulus money, nearly all of the candidates on the ballot expressed broadly defined support for tackling the same goals and challenges in the months ahead.
That common agenda includes updating a long list of crumbling or outdated public infrastructure ranging from sidewalks to stormwater systems. It also includes updating the city’s charter to, in part, give city officials more flexibility to pay for new residential sidewalks.
Other longstanding issues the city’s leaders agree should be addressed—with eyes toward seeking more outside grants and funding—include building new sidewalks and trails to link together more of the city’s neighborhoods and parks.
Another priority the candidates expressed was working with state officials to improve traffic safety at the intersection at U.S. 340 and Augustine Avenue.
Trainor said he’s looking forward to working with city, county and other municipal officials in Jefferson County to implement various recommendations in a special report he spearheaded with a committee of volunteers to address local homelessness and affordable housing. After two years of study, a final report of recommendations was issued in April.
Trainor and Coyle both pointed out how this year’s candidates spent considerable efforts going door to door to meet directly with city residents to listen to their ideas and concerns and to encourage them to participate in the election. City officials also more energetically promoted the election with social media posts, downtown banners and even a mayor for the day essay contest won by a middle school girl.
City Manager Daryl Hennessy said the election’s 649 ballots cast represent the highest voter participation in at least 20 years.
Trainor said he was energized talking to Charles Town residents as part of the election campaigning. “The good thing about elections is it gets us out there talking to folks,” he said.
“One of the things that was loud and clear to me was the infrastructure,” he said of his conversations with residents. “Almost everywhere you went it’s, ‘What’s up with the sidewalks?’”
But mostly, Trainor said, residents “were just happy that we were there talking to them and campaigning—that we took the time, I guess, to see what their concerns were.” He said he’s looking forward to joining other city officials to hold town hall-type gatherings in the future in the city’s four electoral wards.
Coyle offered an optimistic prediction that the city’s election in two years will see even more candidates running for city office. “For most of the election cycles that I’ve seen here there’s been very little competition for [public office] seats,” he said. “This is probably going to be the last election where there’s very few people running. I think the next cycle you’re going to see a bunch of people running.