Ex-Richwood mayor Baber wins election by one vote

CHRISTIAN TYLER RANDOLPH | Gazette-Mail file photo
A hand-painted sign on the corner of Richwood’s now-shuttered grocery store boosted Bob Henry Baber’s mayoral campaign earlier this year. Baber, unofficially, has won the race by one vote.
Bob Henry Baber
CHRISTIAN TYLER RANDOLPH | Gazette-Mail file photo
Murals in downtown Richwood celebrate the city’s history, but Main Street is a virtual ghost town.

Next time the naysayers tell you your vote doesn’t mean anything, point to the Richwood mayoral election.

Bob Henry Baber, a former mayor of Richwood and several times a candidate for statewide office, appears to have won the mayor’s race — and his win couldn’t be any closer.

Baber garnered 104 votes. Second-place finisher Glenn Weiler got 103.

Weiler has until 7 p.m. Wednesday to contest the results before they become official, City Clerk Abby McClung said.

Ten men ran for mayor, all promising, win or lose, to chip in to help the struggling 2,000-person Nicholas County city turn its fortunes around.

Weiler, who moved from California to Richwood about a year ago, led in the immediate aftermath of last week’s election. When votes were counted last Wednesday, Weiler led 102 to 100 over Baber.

But, after provisional ballots were counted, Baber prevailed, McClung said.

Incumbent Mayor Bob Johnson came in third with 82 votes; Drexel McMillion, a service station owner had 81; and John McClung, another former mayor, had 49.

“The town has never seen anything quite like this to be honest,” Baber said. “So many people running, so close, it’s been a really exciting, energizing time for the town.”

Richwood, like so many Southern West Virginia communities, is struggling with fading coal and timber industries and an abandoned downtown — its Main Street has two occupied storefronts, and about two dozen shuttered ones.

Baber ran a campaign, featuring hand-painted yard signs, in which he promised to be aggressive in fighting for state and federal grants to try to bring new businesses and investments to the town.

He was previously mayor of Richwood from 2004 to 2007. He resigned to take a position at Glenville State College following a scuffle with the town recorder, just before impeachment hearings against him were set to begin.

Richwood is struggling to deal with dozens, if not hundreds, of condemned and crumbling houses, a water system that leaks more than two-thirds of the water it pumps, and, like so much of West Virginia, a local economy with far too many opioids and not nearly enough jobs.

But Baber is optimistic that the town is on the rise, thanks to its location at the gateway of the Monongahela National Forest.

“There is no town in the U.S., anywhere, sitting at the edge of a resource like that, where everything is for sale for 10-cents on the dollar,” Baber said.

“You know how people always say, ‘Gosh, I wish I would have bought there, I wish I would have known?’” Baber asked. “Richwood is that town. We are the Aspen of the East — Aspen was a dead mining town, Richwood is in the process of roaring back.”

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5119 or follow @davidlgutman on Twitter.

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