Reed, Dent appear to win council election; Hirschmann also likely re-elected

Campaign volunteers hand out literature to voters at Keister Elementary School on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

Article by Andrew Jenner and Ryan Alessi, with reporting by Bridget Manley and Calvin Pynn

Mayor Deana Reed.

Mayor Deanna Reed and Laura Dent, both Democrats, and independent incumbent George Hirschmann are leading the race for three seats on the Harrisonburg City Council, according to unofficial results released Tuesday night by the city registrar’s office. The results do not include absentee ballots returned on Tuesday to drop boxes located at each voting precinct. While that total is not known, election officials said several hundred absentee ballots were still outstanding as of Tuesday. Mailed-in ballots would be accepted through Friday as long as the ballots were postmarked by Tuesday.

Laura Dent

As of 11 p.m., when early and in-hand absentee results were announced, Reed had a commanding lead with 8,906 votes while Dent had garnered 7,895 votes – both almost certainly enough to assure election to council. Hirschmann stood in third place with 7,044 votes. With a nearly 300 vote lead over Democrat Charles Hendricks, Hirschmann also appears poised to win a second term in office with 7,044. That would give him a slight edge over Hendricks, who received 6,746 votes.

Kathleen Kelley, the city’s first Republican council candidate in the past six years, received 4,840 with only the outstanding absentee votes left to count.

Reed told The Citizen she was eager to “get back to work.”

“My focus is to make sure the city recovers from the pandemic — that’s the first thing we need to do,” said Reed, who has served as mayor for the last four years. “We’ve gotta get our businesses back. We’ve got to get our kids back to school. We need to make sure our families are supported financially. Then after that, I want to continue what I started.”

Dent, the only newcomer to crack the top three after Tuesday’s totals, said she’s been so focused on campaigning over the last six months and is looking forward to learning the ropes on the council.

“It’s been an arc and a trajectory all along,” she said, “from activist to campaigner to candidate to actual city councilwoman to actually doing the job. So I will grow into it.” 

More than 50 percent of all city voters cast ballots prior to Election Day, and those who did so skewed heavily Democratic.

George Hirschmann

When Election Day precinct totals were announced around 8:15 p.m., Hirschmann held a sizeable lead in the council race, with 3,054 votes. Reed was second with 2,313 votes, while Kelley was in third place with 2,105 votes. After early and absentee votes were released shortly before 11 p.m., however, results shifted dramatically in favor of Democratic candidates.

That influx of more Democratic votes, though, didn’t appear to generate a complete Democratic sweep. Hendricks was running fourth after the Election Day and early voting tallies, although Alleyn Harned, chairman of the Harrisonburg Democratic Committee said the 298-vote margin between Hirschmann and Hendricks made that “too close to call” until the remaining absentee ballots were counted.

Hendricks told The Citizen that, win or lose, he learned a lot about the community during the race.

“I’ve heard from a lot of people. I’ve met a lot of people, so I know where the challenges are for the future of Harrisonburg,” he said. “I look forward to working on those, whether I’m at on city council or continuing to volunteer and as an architect in the community.”

Kelley, whose vote total trails the other four, said she tried to get her message out and was grateful for the opportunity.

“I met a lot of great people in the process and learned a lot of the issues,” she said late Tuesday. “And there are some really big issues that need creative ideas and solutions. I congratulate the candidates, and I wish them all the best.”

School board incumbents appear to win re-election

The three Harrisonburg City Public School Board members seeking re-election are all but assured returning for another four-year term.

Deb Fitzgerald, Kaylene Seigle and Nick Swayne were the top three vote-getters for the three seats up this fall.

The results from the eight precincts where people voted on Tuesday and the central precinct that including early votes and the absentee ballots returned before Tuesday showed:

  • Deb Fitzgerald: 8,725
  • Kaylene Seigle: 7,132
  • Nick Swayne: 6,664
  • Irvin Peckham: 4,913
Voters show up early to cast their ballots at Thomas Harrison Middle School on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

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