GALVESTON — Voters take to the polls today in an election that could lead to sweeping changes in the city’s leadership.
All seven seats on the Galveston City Council are contested in races fueled largely by discontent after two tumultuous years at City Hall.
The election could remove the entire bloc of candidates that successfully ran in 2012 on opposition to plans for rebuilding public housing. That position led to a lengthy, public fight with state and federal agencies and threatened the city’s claim to millions of dollars of disaster recovery money. The housing plans have not been stopped so far, but they have been delayed by a lawsuit being considered in a federal court.
Even without the firebrand issue that motivated voters two years ago, political spending in this year’s election has already surpassed that of previous years, largely because of financial support behind Jim Yarbrough, one of four mayoral candidates.
Yarbrough, who served as county judge for 16 years until being unseated in 2012, is making his return to local politics by running to replace Mayor Lewis Rosen, who chose not to seek re-election after just one term. Other top contenders in the race are Elizabeth Beeton, who has served as the District 3 representative on the council for six years, and Don Mafrige, a businessman and former city council member. Raymond Guzman, a truck driver and political newcomer, is also on the mayoral ticket.
Each of the individual council seats is also up for election:
• In District 1, incumbent Councilwoman Cornelia Harris Banks is running for re-election against former Councilman Tarris Woods and Ronald Dean, a welder and engineer.
• In District 2, three people are running to replace Councilman Rusty Legg, who is not running. They are Craig Brown, the current chairman of the Park Board of Trustees; Susan Fennewald, a biologist and former City Council member; and Richard Batie, a retiree and community activist.
• In District 3, Ralph McMorris, the owner of a Galveston-based alcohol-novelty company, is facing off against Kate Marx, a certified public accountant. The District 3 seat, which represent the East End and downtown, is currently held by Beeton.
• In District 4, incumbent Councilman Norman Pappous faces David Hoover, a housing developer.
• In District 5, incumbent Terrilyn Tarlton is matched against Diana Bertini, a lawyer. Bill Quiroga also is on the ballot in District 5.
• In District 6, which represents the island’s West End, incumbent Marie Robb is pitted against Carolyn Sunseri, a real estate executive.
The candidates who come out as clear winners today will most likely be installed on May 19, Galveston City Secretary Janelle Williams said Thursday.
If any of the races are forced to go to a runoff because neither candidate received more than 50 percent of a vote, another election will be held in June to decide the winner.
Galveston voters will choose one of three candidates running for a six-year term on the Galveston College Board of Regents. That race is between attorney Michael Hughes, business consultant Ann Heidel and Sheryl Rozier, a community activist.
In Jamaica Beach, four people are vying for three spots on the City Council. Incumbents Gene Montgomery and Sherwood Green are seeking re-election, while challengers Terry Hudson and Russell Rupertus have filed as new candidates.
This year’s municipal elections will feature some changes from previous elections.
Galveston voters will be able to vote at any of the 16 voting locations in the county, instead of being limited to voting at a specific precinct. The Galveston County Elections Office is using an electronic system that will identify the races that a registered voter is qualified to participate in and generate a ballot.There will be eight voting locations on the island itself, including one, the Church of the Living God on 7 Mile Road, that has not been in used in previous elections.
This year is the first that the city will require voters to bring photo identification to the polls, after state law was changed in 2012. Voters can use a state-issued driver’s license, election identification certificate, personal identification card or concealed handgun license or a federally issued military identification card, U.S. citizenship certificate or U.S. passport.