A light snow began to fall on a small crowd outside Milton Town Hall March 2, when a boisterous Board of Elections member Michael Filicko announced Marion Jones the winner of Milton's mayoral election.
Jones, a council member since 2011, defeated Mayor Cliff Newlands by a 340-129 margin, garnering about 72 percent of the vote. Voter turnout was up significantly from last year's election, which drew 280 voters, but down from the last mayoral election in 2010 that brought out 532 voters. Town Manager Win Abbott said 469 of Milton's 828 registered voters participated, for a turnout of 57 percent.
Jones said the landslide validated the message of her campaign, which called for an administration that would listen to residents and work to bring their vision to fruition.
“The vote meant it is time for a change,” she said. “I can't think of a person I talked to while I was campaigning that wasn't ready to go in a positive direction; a more neighborly and helpful direction.”
Jones, 58, had the support of friends and family throughout election day, including Rehoboth Beach Commissioner Stan Mills, former House candidate Marie Mayor and Jones' sister Kathy, who drove nearly 1,800 miles from Odessa, Texas, to be with Jones for the special day.
“All together, folks from my birth and childhood friends of 50+ years were there,” she said. “Not only did we grow up together and share summers together, our mothers and fathers grew up together and went to college together after World War II. The feeling was comforting. It felt like we were all kids again at the beach.”
Newlands was elected to the mayor's office in 2010, when he defeated former Mayor Don Post by an overwhelming margin. At the time, he vowed to run a more transparent government. Jones, a supporter of Newlands' original mayoral bid, said she was not satisfied with the mayor's first three years in office. Following a second challenging budget process in September, Jones said, she made up her mind to run.
“I heard a lot of vocalization from the citizens but often it didn't get turned into council action,” she said. “So I said I guess this is what I have to do to make that happen.”
Newlands said he was proud of what he accomplished during his three years in office, specifically the town's financial turnaround.
“When I took over, town was on the heels of bankruptcy and over staffed,” he said. “Now we have a balanced budget, and we are putting money in the bank."
Jones will take the gavel at April's regular meeting. She will be joined by newcomers John Collier and Mike Coté, each of whom ran unopposed in the election. Vice Mayor Leah Betts, a council member since 1987, and Councilman Norman Lester chose to step down.
With Jones' move to mayor, her seat on council will be vacant. Jones said she is confident a new council member will be nominated and quickly approved by council.
After beginning her term, Jones said, she plans to hold a public meeting with town council to hear their ideas about committee appointments, the budget process and the vision for Milton. Shortly after, she said, she will hold another public meeting where the public will have an opportunity to offer their opinions and ideas with council.
“It's what we promised and what the people called for, so it's a no-brainer to get it done that way,” she said.
Marion Jones – Absentee 33, In person 307, Total 340
Cliff Newlands – Absentee 11, In person 118, Total 129