Durango voters showed indecision, a desire for stability and a nod to experience based on this week’s City Council election results, which tapped an incumbent and two newbies from a pool of six candidates.
The election produced runaway winners in Melissa Youssef, with 3,766 votes, and Jessika Buell, with 2,671 votes. Third place went to Olivier Bosmans, but only by a narrow margin: Bosmans, Frank Lockwood and Seth Furtney fell within 243 votes of each other.
“In times of great anxiety, there’s a push to seek greater experience and a feeling of being in safe hands,” said Paul DeBell, a political science professor at Fort Lewis College. “If you look at who we elected, it’s the incumbent, the candidate who is active and connected (Buell), and someone who can bring finance and engineering expertise (Bosmans).”
DeBell, along with three current or former council members, said the reasons behind Youssef’s win seem clear: It came down to experience.
Youssef, who has served four years on council, led the city as mayor during high-level staff turnover, the discovery of years of fraud by a former finance director, and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Youssef, herself, said her leadership and consistent community outreach seemed to resonate with voters.
Buell, who owns three businesses, offers a voice for small businesses on City Council – something voters likely prized in the wake of COVID-19’s impact on businesses, DeBell said. Current issues commonly shape voter preferences, he said.
She is also actively raising a family, and at 39 years old, Buell will be the youngest council member. Voters responded to that representation, Buell said.
Bosmans, a project manager and environmental consultant, emphasized the technical experience he brings to council – which is what seemed to resonate with voters across the board, he said. Bosmans received 1,847 votes.
Other candidates, like Harrison Wendt, who received 942 votes, and Lisa McCorry, who dropped out halfway through the race, emphasized big changes related to social justice movements, DeBell said.
“People can have really good reasons to want that and need that, but at a time of great insecurity, they might go with a trusted, tried (candidate),” he said.
People seemed to have a hard time choosing a third candidate, said DeBell and former Mayor Dick White.
The candidates had similar ideas about the issues facing the city. For example, all of them prioritized affordable housing and post-pandemic economic recovery.
“They were all hitting a lot of similar notes. That’s where experience, expertise and personal connections have space to be more important,” DeBell said.
The close race for the third council seat was between three men with similar levels of professional experience: Bosmans; Lockwood, a former attorney; and Furtney, an engineering projects manager.
“My reading of the ballot: People had a hard time choosing a third candidate, and the candidate who barely got ahead was the one who didn’t have any baggage,” White said.
Former Mayor Sweetie Marbury also felt voters were dissuaded by “baggage.”
Furtney, who received 1,604 votes, was not transparent about a 2007 felony conviction, White said. Lockwood, who received 1,791 votes, was fired in 2019 from his position as executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office, now Visit Durango.
Mayor Dean Brookie said The Durango Herald’s endorsement of Bosmans, and Bosmans’ debate performance gave him an advantage over the other candidates.
Furtney did not receive the full support of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, on which he serves, and Wendt did not show experience on the breadth of issues that councilors face, Brookie said.
Marbury said the winning candidates balanced optimism and realism. Each also listed financial or economic issues as a top priority during their campaigns, she said.
Although early projections indicated a low voter turnout this year, it was actually on par with past years at 39%, according to city staff members.
“I am elated with the results,” Brookie said. “It’s an excellent combination of talent and resources for the new council given the issues that we have in front of us.”