Charleston voters elected their first female mayor Tuesday in Democrat Amy Goodwin.
Goodwin, with 9,488 votes, led Republican JB Akers’ 8,492 and independent Andy Backus’ 689 in the race to be the city’s first new mayor in 15 years.
“I’m honored,” Goodwin said from the Kanawha County Voter’s Registration Office Tuesday night. “It’s overwhelming to think we’re making history tonight and being the first female mayor here in the city.”
Goodwin said she believes people voted for her not because she’s a woman but because of her background, experience and energy.
Goodwin, the state’s former tourism commissioner, also is wa former TV news reporter and public relations professional. A native of Wheeling, she’s lived about 25 years in Charleston and served as communications director for then-Charleston Mayor Kemp Melton in the 1990s.
“But yes, does that excite me [to be Charleston’s first female mayor]? Of course, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t,” Goodwin said.
Akers, the current city clerk, is originally from Milton and has practiced law in Charleston since 1999. He said that, if he were elected, his administration would focus on keeping Charleston safe and clean.
With the election over, Akers said Tuesday night, that now is the time for the city to come together and support those taking office.
“I think in Kanawha County, I think the Democrats just came out motivated and they made their choice,” Akers said. “I think we all have to accept it and support the people who won.”
Backus, who teaches high school equivalency classes at Garnet Career Center, said earlier this year that he wants to make the city’s Transit Mall and Slack Plaza a sort of “tourism hub” that connects people with attractions throughout the Kanawha Valley and the state.
Harm reduction for drug users, and especially a suspended needle exchange program at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, had been a topic of debate in the election. The program shut down in March after city officials and first responders argued that it led to the more needle litter and increased crime in the city.
Akers campaigned on being the only candidate to have opposed the needle exchange program while it was still operating. Akers accused Goodwin of supporting the needle exchange program and safe-injection sites for drug users, pointing to a Facebook post she made in March. At a debate last month, Goodwin denied supporting safe-injection sites and the expansion of the needle exchange program. But said that, as mayor, she would have allowed the City Council to discuss harm reduction options.
Goodwin will replace Danny Jones, who has been mayor for 15 years. Jones endorsed Akers early in the campaign.
Besides Goodwin, Charleston also elected six Democrats to the at-large seats on the City Council.
“I think it’s a great opportunity because, if you look at the makeup of that, you’ve got in there small-business folks that are involved in investment and banking and real estate,” Goodwin said of the at-large council members-elect. “So I think they’ll have a wonderful, fresh look coming into this, because they’ll all come from different back grounds.”
Goodwin said now is the time for Charleston to come together and focus on issues that are pressing in the city.
“And make no mistake, there are many — the budget, opportunities for our young people, our small-business owners, of course crime,” she said. “There are a lot of pressing issues, and they all have to happen simultaneously. We have run several different trains on all of the tracks.”