Challengers ousted two incumbent Keene city councilors Tuesday, winning seats in wards 3 and 4.
Ward 3 Councilor David C. Richards lost his bid for reelection to challenger Michael Giacomo, who got on the ballot after mounting a last-minute write-in campaign in the primary last month.
And in Ward 4, Catherine “Catt” Workman beat Robert J. O’Connor. O’Connor, who previously served on the City Council, was appointed in August on an interim basis following another councilor’s mid-term resignation.
Giacomo called his win a surprise. “I entered this race because I didn’t want another unopposed election in Keene,” he said. “It happens quite frequently ... and I really wanted to make sure that there was another name on the ballot.”
Three other new councilors will join them in representing wards, having won races for open seats. So will incumbent Ward 5 Councilor Thomas F. Powers, who ran unopposed.
Six City Council seats representing Keene’s five wards were on the ballot Tuesday:
In Ward 1, Raleigh Ormerod beat Robert S. Crowell, 224-140. Incumbent Steve Hooper instead ran for, and won, an at-large seat.
In Ward 2, Robert “Bobby” Williams beat Teresa “Terri” O’Rorke, 453-427. Incumbent Carl Jacobs did not run for reelection.
In Ward 3, Giacomo beat Richards, 485-399.
In Ward 4, Workman will serve out the two-year remainder of a term after beating O’Connor, 528-437.
For Ward 4’s other seat, a full four-year term, former state representative Gladys Johnsen beat Robert J. Call, 682-262. Incumbent Robert Sutherland did not run for reelection.
In Ward 5, Powers won 961 votes.
Each ward has two representatives on the City Council serving alternating four-year terms. Ward 4 had an extra open seat this year because Councilor Margaret M. “Maggie” Rice resigned in June when she moved outside the ward.
The Ward 2 race had the closest contest, coming down to fewer than 30 votes. “I’d like to congratulate my opponent,” Williams, 42, said of O’Rorke. “It was a very strong, close race she ran. She pushed me to do my best, and I appreciate that. And now I’m looking forward to getting to work and working with the new mayor.”
The ward results, combined with the election of Michael J. Remy to an at-large seat, mean six of the City Council’s 15 members will be fresh faces when their terms begin in January. Several councilors-elect said they expect to spend the next few months learning the municipal ropes.
“I look forward to working with Rob in the upcoming months, just to get caught up with everything,” Ward 4’s Workman said of O’Connor.
“I’m excited that Catt is gonna be on the council, even though I lost,” O’Connor said. “I’ve gotten to know her, talked to her and her family, and I just think she’s gonna bring fresh ideas to the council. She’s intelligent, and she’s a go-getter.”
Giacomo, 37, a chemical engineer with Markem-Imaje, ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2015 and 2017, and for an interim appointment in 2017. He said he didn’t do much campaigning this time, but had name recognition, goodwill and yard signs left over from his last attempt. “I had a list of folks who instantly wanted signs when they found out I was running, and I had some signs left over still,” he said.
He also credited the energy of George Hansel’s successful mayoral campaign with lifting him and other challengers. “I think there was a wave of excitement for seeing some fresh ideas and fresh blood out there,” he said.
Giacomo said he hopes the next City Council can harness that excitement and learn “exactly what we can take from this in order to help improve the area for young people potentially looking to move here.”
Richards, who is wrapping up his fifth term on the council, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.
In interviews outside polling places Tuesday, voters named a range of issues they want councilors to focus on in the coming years, including housing, economic development, climate change, addiction and making sure people can afford to live here. High property taxes were a common concern.
“I’m a homeowner — new homeowner — and I’m looking at possibly moving out of Keene, because the taxes are so high,” said Tom Burton, 52, a voter in Ward 2.
Councilors-elect cited some of those issues, and others, when asked about their priorities Tuesday.
Workman, 35, a family service specialist with the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services in Keene, said she hopes to collaborate with social service agencies on issues including homelessness and substance misuse. She also mentioned stabilizing the property tax rate and promoting Keene while making sure it keeps its unique character. “I don’t want to lose sight of those things,” she said.
Johnsen, 77, who won the other Ward 4 seat, said she looks forward to giving back to Keene.
“I was a state rep, and now I’m just looking forward to being in my own town and doing whatever I can do to help my fellow citizens,” said Johnsen, who served Keene at the Statehouse from 2010 to 2018. A retired Keene State College professor, Johnsen said her time in education and state politics will inform her work on the City Council. One of her top issues, she said, is the opioid crisis.
Ward 1’s Ormerod, 54, a business management consultant, said he hopes to work on the quality and availability of housing. “I want this to be a place that young families want to come, and that growing, socially responsible companies and business people want to come to,” he said.