Until two weeks ago, the City Council election outcome seemed a slam dunk. Three candidates — Keith Cunningham (R), Jamie Jensen (D), and Josh Nathan (D) — were running for three open seats. They’d been out on the campaign trail for months, and there was little doubt all three would be up on the dais at City Hall come January.
But rumors were circulating that Mayor Josh Cohn was asking his constituents to vote, via write-in, for Carolina Johnson, a Councilmember, who earlier this year announced her decision not to run for another term. In one message from the mayor, he faulted Ms. Jensen and Mr. Cunningham for their lack of experience.
Last week, lawn signs started popping up for Ms. Johnson, first in her Indian Village neighborhood, and then around town.
A few days ago, in an email appeal, Johnson wrote: “I humbly ask you to vote for me for Rye City Council. I initially declined to run for re-election. However, to my surprise, quite a few residents have asked me to be a write-in candidate. They know what I’ve done in local government, and they want me to keep doing it.”
Leaders of both Rye political parties, however, have urged Rye residents not to vote for Johnson and instead support Cunningham, Nathan, and Jensen.
“One thing I know for sure is we have three solid candidates on the ballot: Keith Cunningham (Republican), Josh Nathan (Democrat), and Jamie Jensen (Democrat),” said Jana Seitz, who ran for City Council in 2021. “They have been vetted through our two-party system, spent the better part of the year working hard to earn Rye citizen’s votes and have been working beautifully together already.
“They have my vote.”
Councilman Bill Henderson, also a Republican, was one of many residents who expressed alarm upon hearing the news about Johnson’s last-minute write-in campaign.
“While I think Carolina is a very accomplished and good person and was an effective member of the City Council for her first three years, I would not vote for her to remain on the Council,” he said. “I believe her recent grass-roots write-in campaign is mostly about the mayor and his colleagues trying to keep their ruling coalition together.
“I don’t want to rehash all the unfortunate actions and misjudgments of the mayor’s majority coalition in the past year, so I will mention just one: Carolina was one of the four petitioners who took part in the mayor’s destructive, wasteful, and frivolous lawsuit against the City’s Board of Ethics. The suit was later withdrawn, but caused widespread dismay in the community and cost the City over $40,000 in legal fees. Such action so outraged the Rye Republican and Democratic parties that they united and jointly called for the mayor, Carolina, and their other two colleagues to withdraw the lawsuit or resign.”
Henderson encouraged “all who are unhappy with the current divisiveness on the City Council and want change, to vote for the other candidates who are on the ballot and are, and have been, actively running.”
Rye Democratic Party Chairwoman Danielle Tagger-Epstein said voters need to consider that “four of the sitting Councilmembers, including Carolina, spent this year suing the City and not getting things done. This is not how government should work or how public officials should serve.”
She continued, “Their attempt to upend the Nov. 7 election is a last-minute effort to make sure they hold onto the majority and remain in control of the Council.”
Johnson, in her email appeal to voters, wrote: “Some insisted that the city needs the experience, the contacts, and the technical expertise I’ve acquired in my decades of work to combat flooding. Others appreciated my contributions to responsible development, our environment, and our quality of life.
“I was astonished. Though I’ve accomplished a lot on the City Council, I’ve done it quietly, without seeking recognition. I was moved by their appreciation. And I was persuaded.I would be honored and delighted to be your Councilmember for another term.
“If you’re wondering, I’m a political independent. A vote for me is a vote for moderation and common sense.”
Jono Peter, also opposed to Johnson’s candidacy, said the voters of Rye have an important choice. “In an off-year election with low expected turnout, a small number of voters will determine the makeup of next year’s city council. Be a decider. Vote!” he said. “If your wish is for a more civil and collaborative council, you must vote for Keith Cunningham. If Keith does not receive enough votes to be in the top three, regardless of how Josh and Jamie do, power will remain with a monolithic group of four and collaboration strikes out.”
Former mayor Doug French said the community “should welcome new people, new perspectives. We have three independent thinkers running; Keith, Josh, and Jamie are just what we need. They will represent the people and work together — they already are. Rye needs to get away from groupthink, which prevents healthy discussion, dialogue, and debate.” French, along with former mayors Ted Dunn and Steve Otis, noted that, to their knowledge, no sitting Rye mayor had ever launched a write-in campaign for an outgoing councilmember.