Chris Watts handily defeated Jean Schaake and Donna Woodfork in a race for mayor, capturing about 61 percent of the vote in complete but unofficial returns.
According to elections officials, about 8.45 percent of the city’s registered voters turned out, many more than the 6.88 percent turnout in 2012 for the hotly contested mayor’s race.
Watts’ supporters began celebrating shortly after early voting results were released at 7 p.m. Saturday, saying the election day turnout wasn’t enough for Schaake to close the gap.
Watts said he was humbled and honored by the confidence the voters showed in him, and credited both his past experience on the City Council and his grassroots campaign for the success.
“I knew I was running an uphill campaign,” said Watts, 52, an attorney and real estate developer and investor. “I didn’t know what to expect. I knew I had to run hard and smart and be authentic.”
Schaake, 71, is an associate dean at the University of North Texas. She said she appreciated all the people who voted for her and worked so hard on her campaign.
“I congratulate Chris and wish him well,” Schaake said.
Woodford, 44, a talk show host, could not be reached for comment Saturday night.
Outgoing Mayor Mark Burroughs has reached his term limit under the city charter.
The three veteran candidates worked hard to differentiate themselves during the campaign this spring, but Schaake appeared to have lost momentum early in the race after the Denton Firefighters Association announced it would be endorsing Watts. Woodfork, 44, did not pull enough of the vote to throw the mayor’s race into a run-off, as she did in 2012.
Despite substantial support from some members of the longtime political establishment, political newcomer Glen Farris Squibb, 35, could not edge past John Ryan, 48, a veteran campaigner, in a special election for District 2.
Current District 2 council member Dalton Gregory resigned the seat, which represents north- and east-side neighborhoods, as well as a few neighborhoods on the west side of central Denton, in order to run at-large.
In complete but unofficial returns, Ryan drew 59 percent of the vote.
“I greatly appreciate all the support I got from the community; it was really good,” Ryan said, adding that he knew it could have just as easily gone the other way. This was Ryan’s third run for office.
The first thing he plans on doing is setting up monthly meetings in the district with his constituents and representatives from the city staff, he said, similar to the meetings held in the Denia neighborhood.
Farris could not be reached for comment Saturday night.
The City Council will see an experienced member return to Place 5, after Dalton Gregory defeated Hatice Salih in the at-large race for that seat. Pete Kamp, who currently holds the Place 5 seat, has reached her term limits.
Gregory, 62, a retired elementary school principal, won easily with 64 percent of the vote, in complete but unofficial returns. Salih, 56, who ran unsuccessfully for council seats in 2009 and 2010, is known for her efforts to petition the city to overturn a policy that increased utility deposits for people with poor credit and payment histories.
Gregory had signaled his intentions to run before the filing period opened, resigning his District 2 seat effective with the canvassing of the election. Under the charter, he would have reached his term limits for District 2 next year. By moving to Place 5, he is eligible under the charter to serve longer, 11 years in all.
“I’m grateful for the results,” Gregory said. “I’ve been on the council for five years and have a pretty big record, so you know that anyone who’s anti-incumbent, they’re not going to vote for you.”
He was concerned, in particular, that Salih had aligned herself with the volunteers who delivered the petition to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city. He said he wasn’t sure how that would affect his campaign.
Looking ahead, Gregory said he expected the summer would be busy rewriting the city’s gas well development ordinance. Regardless of how the vote progresses on the ban, the city needs a contingency plan to address problems in the ordinance, he said.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Gregory said.
Salih could not be reached for comment Saturday night.
Greg Johnson raced alone to replace current council member James King, who did not seek a third term.
The 45-year-old real estate broker filed for the seat less than a week after longtime resident and information technology consultant Brendan Carroll, 44, had also filed. But by mid-March, Carroll withdrew from the race, saying he found it too hard to build momentum.
Carroll’s decision came too late to pull his name from the ballot, although he still garnered about 22 percent of the vote in complete but unofficial results.
Johnson did not immediately return a call for comment Saturday night.
Staff photographer David Minton contributed to this story.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.