It was just after 8:30 p.m. when cheers and shouts of joy erupted in the Assembly Chambers of City Hall. Poll workers at the 10th of Juneau’s 13 precincts had just called in to report their results. Norton Gregory had pulled ahead of incumbent Assembly member Kate Troll for the first time.
A group of more than 50 people had gathered in the chambers — known as Election Central for the night — to watch election officials post the results of this year’s municipal election as they came in.
Gregory, 37, was among the group that cheered as the second Mendenhall Valley precinct reported in. Only moments before, incumbent Mary Becker, who shared a support base with Gregory, had pulled ahead of challenger Arnold Liebelt, and her lead was beginning to widen.
With supporters at his side, Gregory sat anxiously awaiting the results from the remaining three precincts, which took another 20 minutes to come in. The nerves weren’t necessary though. Neither Troll nor Liebelt were able to regain the lead before the final precinct reported in.
“I’m really excited,” Gregory said beaming only minutes after the results were in. “It was a hard race; it was a good race.”
It was also a close race and one that isn’t necessarily finished either. Election officials counted nearly 6,500 ballots Tuesday, but almost 2,000 still need to be counted.
The second time proved to be the charm for Gregory who, with 52.4 percent of the vote, defeated incumbent Kate Troll, ending her hopes of serving a second consecutive term. Troll secured 47.1 percent of the vote; the rest went to write-ins.
“I’m looking forward to working with the community and my fellow Assembly members,” Gregory told the Empire.
Before he joins the Assembly, though, election officials will have to count the remaining 622 questioned ballots — ballots cast by voters in the wrong precinct — and 1,294 absentee ballots. That won’t happen until the end of the week, and results of the election won’t be certified until Tuesday, according to City Clerk Laurie Sica.
As she double-checked the results after Election Central had cleared out, Sica said she hadn’t seen a race so close in years. Though the absentee and question ballots typically follow the trend of the regular ballots, roughly 23 percent of the total ballots cast have yet to be counted.
“This is pretty close, so things could change,” Sica said.
If, after all of the votes have been counted, Gregory still finishes ahead of Troll, he will be the first Alaska Native to hold a seat on the Assembly since 2014.
Gregory is a Douglas resident and works as the housing services manager for Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority.
Incumbent Mary Becker held on to her District 1 seat with 50.9 percent of the vote, beating back challengers Arnold Liebelt and William Quayle Jr.
Like the District 1 race, this too was a close one. Becker narrowly edged out Liebelt, who secured 45.3 percent of the vote. Quayle finished last with about 3.7 percent.
“I’m pleased the community is sending me back to my job; I didn’t want to leave it yet,” Becker told the Empire with a chuckle after congratulating Liebelt just outside of the Assembly Chambers.
Going into the race, Becker didn’t know Liebelt, which made it hard for her to predict how close the race would be, she said. It was closer than she might have imagined, which Liebelt sees as a small victory, even if he didn’t win the race.
“I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish,” he told the Empire. “I wanted to push the conversation, and that’s what I did. I have no regrets.”
Quayle said he still plans to push the Assembly to retool a city regulation requiring pedicab operators to purchase a $1,500 business license. Quayle, who owns a pedicab but hasn’t yet purchased a license to use it commercially, joined the race to champion the issue.
Beth Weldon, a former firefighter and the co-owner of Glacier Autoparts, won an uncontested race for the open District 2 Assembly seat.
“I feel relieved and very excited,” Weldon said after it became clear that nobody had mounted a strong enough write-in campaign to defeat her. “I’m most excited about representing the people — getting to talk to them and hear their concerns.”
During the past several months, Weldon has talked about the importance of diversifying the local economy and expanding housing options for Juneau residents. Weldon disagrees with the Assembly’s decision to restrict senior sales tax exemptions, which the city’s governing body passed with a 7–2 vote in September 2015.
Weldon said her first priority once she is sworn in as an Assembly member will be to promote housing in Downtown Juneau.
Jamie Bursell has held that seat since mid February, when the Assembly appointed her to fill former Assembly member Karen Crane’s place after Crane resigned her seat to run for mayor last spring.
Weldon announced her candidacy in June, months before the candidate filing period opened. Bursell didn’t run against Weldon so that she would have more time to dedicate to her business, High Cadence Triathlon Training.
As a District 2 Assembly member, Weldon will represent the residents of the Mendenhall Valley and everybody living out the road.
About 26 percent of Juneau’s 25,100 registered voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s city election. Voter turnout will likely be closer to 34 percent once the question and absentee ballots are counted.