Don Coombs reacts to loss
Massive turnover in Harbour Grace council chamber; Terry Barnes wins top post
Some residents of Conception Bay North were glued to their computer screens on the evening of Sept. 24, posting to social media every couple of minutes looking for results to a very hyped and intense municipal election in Harbour Grace.
In the end, word surfaced that, for the first time in 20 years, Don Coombs will not be the mayor of this historic town.
The very last polling results released for the region came from the town of some 3,200 people, after a long wait with very few updates available throughout the night.
Results for the mayor’s seat were released first, with a close race between Coombs and challenger Terry Barnes, who just completed four years as deputy mayor.
After 24 years on council, Coombs was ousted by a margin of 70 votes.
The council results came after midnight, with all four incumbent members losing their seats.
Six new faces will represent the town in the council chamber this term, including former fire chief Sonia Williams, who received the highest number of votes of any candidate, with 1,232 in her favour — almost 300 more than her closest rival.
Coombs described the result as disappointing, but he respects the voice of the voters.
He also said this was the first time he felt he was fighting hard to keep the position, since it was expected to be a tight race.
“I went around talking to people,” Coombs explained. “I received some really good ideas from them that I was hoping to bring back to council.”
Unfortunately, Coombs continued, he was hearing the word “change.”
“I kept hearing change, change, change,” he said.
Coombs referred to it as the “change campaign,” where some residents and candidates openly expressed their wants for a different council.
Social media blew up with activity when the results were announced.
Residents posted how excited they were that there was “finally change coming to Harbour Grace,” and that it was “about time.”
Coombs was not sure if this was to remove him as mayor because he had held the post for 20 years, or if it was the result of a bigger plan to start over with a new group.
After Barnes heard he would be the next mayor, he said he was too overwhelmed and did not quite know how he was feeling yet.
“I’d like to thank the people of Harbour Grace for the support,” he said. That was all he could get out.
Coombs was not visibly upset about losing the mayor’s race, but still said he would have loved to be the mayor again.
“I’ve met some great people in this position, including prime ministers, MHAs, other mayors,” he explained. “I believe I represented the town to the best of my ability.”
“I leave today with $600,000 in the town’s account. I would personally like to see $600,000 in there this time next year.”
Coombs described the loss as “nothing personal.”
“It is what it is,” he said. “I’ll final- ly get to take some holidays. For 18 years I have been in touch with the council office every day.”
He admitted it will be an adjustment not being mayor anymore.
“Whenever I attended events I was presented as the mayor of Harbour Grace,” he said. “In fact, my (daughters) have always known me as the mayor. This will not be the last of Don Coombs.”
Coombs does, however, acknowledge the excellent job he believes the former council has done.
“I am really proud to have worked with such a great group.”
Big change in chamber
Former councillors Joan Short, who received 591 votes, David Murphy (481), Wendell Hunt Sr. (395) and Albert “Bud” Chafe (358), did not have enough votes to hold their seats.
Those that will sit on council for the next four years with Barnes and Williams are newcomers Gord Stone (942), Hayward Blake (915) and Tony McCarthy (914), as well as former deputy mayor Kathy Tetford (655) and former councillor Patrick Haire (880).
Tetford lost a previous mayor’s race to Coombs in the 2009 election, while Haire moved back from Alberta with his family three years ago.
It is tradition for the candidate with the highest number of votes to take the deputy mayor’s position, but it will not be determined until the first council meeting next month. The date has not been determined yet.
Others on the ballot were Mary Shute (634), Ann Coombs (559), Paul Kennedy (478), Shawn Vaters (382) and Mary Cornish-Havmand (149).
With the lack of council experience with a majority of the new members, Coombs has already offered his experience up to those who are willing to ask.
“If any of them need to ask anything, I am available to share my knowledge and experience,” Coombs explained. “I have a love for the town and the whole region, and I will enjoy helping out here as long as I am welcome.”
Terry Barnes was elected mayor of Harbour Grace in a close race, taking the win by only 70 votes.
Don Coombs will no longer sit in the mayor’s chair after losing the municipal election Sept. 24.
BALLOTS FOR THE BOX — Muriel Hutchings drops her ballots in the box at a polling station in Spaniard’s Bay on the afternoon of Sept. 24. At right is Jessie Neil, deputy returning officer for the municipal election. Hutchings was among the more than 1,200 citizens who voted in last week’s election.