Gilda Yazzie won a seat on Durango City Council in Tuesday’s municipal election, but the race was too close to call for two other candidates – Dave Woodruff and Harrison Wendt – who are battling for a second open seat on council.
Yazzie had 2,714 votes in the final round of preliminary results, with Woodruff and Wendt trailing neck and neck with 2,405 and 2,399 votes, respectively.
Carter Rogers had 585 votes in the final round of preliminary reporting and Douglas Snow had 248 votes.
Of 13,527 ballots mailed to registered voters in Durango, 4,610 ballots had been processed, according to the preliminary election results. That is not to be confused with 8,351 total votes among candidates. (Voters could pick two candidates per ballot.)
The two candidates who receive the most votes, Yazzie and one more yet to be determined, will take the seats of Mayor Barbara Noseworthy and Councilor Kim Baxter, who each decided not to seek reelection after completing their first terms.
La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee said there are 39 outstanding cure ballots, meaning ballots with signature discrepancies, unsigned ballot envelopes or no valid ID on file.
“They have until April 12 at close of business to respond to us to have their vote count,” she said.
Military and overseas votes also have yet to be accounted for, she said. Those voters also have until April 12 to get their ballots to the county clerk’s office. Lee said it is impossible to know how many overseas or military votes can be expected to be received.
With the unofficial final results, Woodruff and Wendt are within one half of 1% vote difference. If the cure process doesn’t change that, the election will go to a mandatory recount, she said.
“The cures may fluctuate that vote count. So I cannot declare an official recount until after April 12,” Lee said. “This is really important to the public so we can ensure every vote cast is accurately accounted for. I have to wait until April 12 at close of business.
“Every single vote matters,” she said.
Yazzie, who already had a sturdy lead in the first round of preliminary results, was celebrating at the Himalayan Kitchen downtown when the final numbers became available.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I just feel grateful for all of my supporters. And I think people, they came together to see what I wanted to bring to the city, so I’m really glad (about that).”
She said she met hundreds of people on the campaign trail who were concerned about the direction of the city. And if anyone wants to share their concerns with her, she said she is willing to listen.
She ran as a champion for preserving the historic character of downtown Durango. She opposed Downtown’s Next Step, a project that reimagines downtown Durango as a more pedestrian-friendly environment.
She said other top priorities included addressing homelessness in the city and improving infrastructure and parking space accessibility. And, her work with Habitat for Humanity of La Plata County and with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as an independent contractor has made her skilled at pursuing grants.
Woodruff also promised to bring a new perspective to City Council. He said the next decade is pivotal to Durango’s future and his leadership would be informed by 17 years of experience running a business in the city’s restaurant industry, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a family man.
He said serving on City Council is his chance to give back to the Durango community.
On Tuesday, he said he’s clinging to second place by the skin of his teeth. He is ahead of Wendt by just six votes, which he said isn’t enough.
“It was a lot closer than I wanted or expected it to be,” he said. “But I’m thankful that the voters of Durango had belief in me to represent their vision on the council.”
He said he is excited to get onto City Council and get to work.
Wendt, just barely trailing Woodruff, said Tuesday’s results weren’t what he was hoping for, but regardless, he was celebrating with supportive friends and loved ones at a watch party.
He hopes cured ballots and overseas votes can bump him into second place; but either way, he said Woodruff would make a strong city councilor.
“I thank the Durango community a lot for the love and support they’ve shown me,” he said. “And I really do believe that Gilda and Dave will make beautiful city councilors.”
He ran a campaign focused on affordable housing, infrastructure improvements, support for essential city services, and an intent to bring a fresh perspective to Durango’s elected leadership and serve as a voice for the underrepresented and working residents.
Rogers, who is student body president at Fort Lewis College, is one of the youngest candidates to compete for a seat on City Council at age 21. Like other candidates, he identified housing as a major priority for City Council.
He said the city needs to limit the number of vacation rentals such as AirBnBs in city limits, which are biting into Durango’s housing inventory. He also does not support the Downtown’s Next Step project, noting that 75 business owners and managers have signed a letter of opposition to changing downtown.
Snow, trailing other candidates, made an appearance at Tuesday’s City Council meeting to ask councilors to withhold from approving the creation of a Financial Advisory Board, which would include the dissolution of several volunteer-led advisory boards. He has attended several recent City Council meetings to deliver the same message.
He campaigned on addressing the housing crisis and urging the city to do more to support its homeless population. He has called for better snow removal on city streets and sidewalks and for more sidewalks to be installed in Bodo Industrial Park.