Paducah mayoral candidates George Bray and Richard Abraham are moving on to the Nov. 3 general election after unseating Mayor Brandi Harless in the primary.
In a brief announcement Monday afternoon, McCracken County Clerk Julie Griggs presented the mayoral results at the county courthouse, while flanked by board of elections members Tommy Dickey and Ulla Schierhorn. It drew a small crowd who gathered to hear the news.
Bray finished first with 2,992 votes, or 46.5%, while Abraham came in second with 1,851 votes, or 28.8%. Harless came in third with 1,581 votes, or 24.6%. There were 6,424 votes cast.
“I ran for office to make changes for Paducah,” Harless said in a statement Monday.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished. Change is hard and we’ve made many good changes over the last few years. I believe Paducah will be better because of it.”
Harless won Paducah’s mayoral seat in November 2016 after defeating incumbent Gayle Kaler. She started her term in January 2017.
“Unfortunately, we have groups in our community that do not support growth and a local media that supports them,” she added.
“Those of us who want to see Paducah grow and flourish will have to continue to step up and work hard if we don’t want to see the progress we’ve made stall. I look forward to serving out my term and finishing my service strong. Thank you, Paducah, for the opportunity to serve.”
Harless’ challengers, Bray and Abraham, both visited the courthouse Monday, and discussed their reactions to the primary results with The Sun. They also shared their vision for the city of Paducah.
“I’m tickled to death with the results,” Bray said. “It was a lot of hard work by a lot of friends, a lot of family, so I’m just tickled to death.”
He also focused on jobs.
“My vision for Paducah is to go out and create more jobs,” Bray said. “Help the businesses that are here in Paducah create more jobs and, certainly, support Paducah Economic Development in recruiting new businesses into the area and support the entrepreneurs that I know that are here that want to start new businesses, including Black entrepreneurs.”
Bray said his campaign plans to take a few days to relax, but it’ll start thinking about strategy for the fall election and how it’ll lay out the campaign, noting that COVID-19 had derailed door-to-door efforts to meet residents.
Meanwhile, Abraham said he felt great about the results.
“I’m in the running. I’m still there. I’m still standing. I still got a shot,” he said. “You can’t win it if you’re not in it and we’re in it and I look forward to putting the work in. I look forward to everything that goes with a general election — the debates, the forums, all of that.”
His vision for Paducah moving forward is to “remember who we are.”
“Sometimes you just want to turn off the YouTube, you want to turn off the news media — you’re seeing all of these reports from other places — and remember who we are,” he said.
“We love each other in this community. Our police department is great. The people in this community, time and time again, have stepped up when the need arises. Whether it’s an ice storm. Whether it’s a tragedy in our schools. Whether it’s a cancer walk. They open up and they take care of each other. So, just remember who we are.”
What’s next? He said it’s Nov. 3.
“What’s next for me is we’re going to get out, going to grab my folks together and we’re going to talk about it,” Abraham added. “We’re going to pray first and see where we go, but I’m excited to be in it.”
In the city commission race, John “Buzz” VonTesmar was eliminated from a crowded field of nine candidates. Eight commission candidates move on to the general election.
The commission results were:
• Raynarldo Henderson — 2,854 votes, or 14.4%.
• Incumbent Sandra Wilson — 2,590 votes, or 13%.
• Melinda Winchester — 2,292 votes, or 11.5%.
• Carol Gault — 2,269 votes, or 11.4%.
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• David Guess — 2,021 votes, or 10.2%.
• Robert Shy — 1,453 votes, or 7.3%.
• Lakilia Bedeau — 1,761 votes, or 8.8%.
• Mike Reed — 987 votes, or 4.9%.
• VonTesmar — 949 votes, or 4.7%.
The Sun reached out to VonTesmar about the primary results. He said it’s sad, adding that “we need business people involved.” He also congratulated Bray and Abraham.
Monday’s election results came almost a week after the June 23 primary, as the clerk’s office had until 6 p.m. Saturday to receive mail-in ballots postmarked June 23 or before. The expanded absentee voting is one of several changes made for Kentucky’s 2020 primary due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the clerk’s office, 15,537 people voted in the primary and 12,428 of 15,781 absentee ballots were returned. Griggs explained that some voters who requested a mail-in ballot later decided to vote in-person. Those ballots were canceled, so they didn’t vote twice.
It was a higher than normal turnout.
“We figured it up. It was about a 29% turnout, which is extremely high for a primary,” she said. “I think last year, in the primary, it was only like a ... 11 or 12% turnout, so it was much higher than we anticipated.”
Griggs thinks election-related postcards mailed out by the State Board of Elections contributed to McCracken County’s higher primary turnout.
“They mailed them out to every registered voter in Kentucky, so people that might not normally vote a primary, they got this card in the mail and it made them aware that there was a primary going on,” she said.
“No. 2, I think the mayor and city commission race really brought out the voters in the city.”