Write-In Pulls Election Night Upset

Heath Cookendorfer

RIDGEWAY – Although the results are still unofficial, the final numbers rolling in Tuesday night appear to have carried a surprise candidate to victory in Ridgeway’s municipal elections.

Charlene Herring easily won her third term as mayor Tuesday night, besting challenger and sitting Councilwoman Belva Bush 91 votes to 27. Russ Brown also coasted to his second term on Town Council with 98 votes. The big shock, which will not be confirmed until 10 a.m. Friday by the Fairfield County Election Commission, came in the race for the second spot on Council, as write-in candidate Heath Cookendorfer appears to have ousted Bush from her Council seat, 47 votes to 41.

Cookendorfer, 42, is originally from Alexandria, Ky., and has lived on N. Palmer Street in downtown Ridgeway for approximately 10 years. He made his intentions to run as a write-in known to the Fairfield County Elections Office on March 29, according to Debbie Stidham, Director of Fairfield County Voter Registration & Elections, in a phone call to the office. While all of Cookendorfer’s information was written down by office staff at that time, Stidham said, staff also informed him that a written declaration would also be necessary and asked him to send that declaration by email. After polls closed Tuesday night, the Elections Office was unable to locate Cookendorfer’s email containing the written declaration. Stidham said Cookendorfer sent the information via email late Tuesday as a precaution, but added that her office did have the information that was written down at the time of the March 29 phone call.

The written declaration is necessary, Stidham said, in order to confirm spelling of a candidate’s name so that the Election Commission can verify voter intent when confirming results.

“I decided at the 11th hour to put my candidacy in for Town Council,” Cookendorfer said Tuesday night. “I’ve always been interested in politics. It’s been a passion of mine since I was a little kid.”

Cookendorfer said he had made two previous bids for Town Council, both with no success. When he saw that Bush was running for both the mayor’s seat and reelection to her Council seat, Cookendorfer said he saw an opportunity, especially if Bush won the mayor’s race.

“I look forward to working with everyone on Council and serving the people of Ridgeway,” Cookendorfer said. “I think Charlene Herring has done a good job and I think Council has done a good job of putting Ridgeway on the map.”

While results were still unofficial, Bush accepted the outcome graciously.

“I am thankful for the time I’ve spent with the town,” Bush said, “but I’m also grateful for the rest. I thank all the people who supported me. I admire the work Charlene has done and I’m sure she will continue to do a good job. It was a pleasure to be the first African-American to run for mayor in Ridgeway.”

Herring could not be reached for comment at press time.

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