As of the morning after Election Day, Castle Rock's mayoral race was too close to call.
Initial returns showed Randy Reed was poised to become Castle Rock's first at-large mayor in roughly 30 years. Reed came out in the lead with the first batch of results released shortly after 7:30 p.m., although he led by less than a percentage point.
But with each update throughout the night, Jason Gray chipped away at that gap.
Results posted around 9 p.m. on Election Night, the second round, showed Reed with just over 41 percent of the 20,459 votes counted. Gray followed with 40.5 percent. Charles Fletcher had 18.5 percent.
The latest results posted by the county after midnight show the Reed and Gray within 0.34 percent of one another with 22,378 votes counted.
After the 7:30 p.m. release of initial results, neither Reed nor Gray was prepared to call the race because it was so close. The Castle Rock Town Charter calls for an automatic recount if final results show the top two candidates within a half percentage point of each other.
Douglas County was in the midst of a historic midterm election turnout with thousands more ballots still needing to be processed after 9 p.m. on Election Night. Official county results won't be available until Nov. 26.
But Reed and Gray said they weren't surprised by the close race.
"I didn't know which way it would go," Reed said. "Right now, it's going my way."
Gray, from the watch party at his downtown coffee shop, said he was excited by the results.
"I did think it was going to be a close race," he said. "It's exciting so far and I guess we'll just wait for everything to come through. Of course, I'm hopeful."
Fletcher said he was proud of the campaign he ran and plans to stay highly involved in his community.
"I tried to stay positive," he said.
Castle Rock's mayoral race marked a departure from the town's longstanding practice of selecting its mayor from among a seven-member council.
As an at-large mayor, Reed would represent Castle Rock as a whole but would not have more power than fellow councilmembers. The mayor will be sworn in at the Dec. 4 town council meeting, along with the newly elected District 3 and District 5 councilmembers.
Kevin Bracken was leading in District 3 with 44.7 percent and Caryn Johnson in District 5 with 45.4 percent as of 9 p.m.
Last year, voters approved changing the town's charter to allow for an at-large mayor and six councilmembers, as opposed to the former council structure made up of seven councilmembers who voted on the mayor from among their group.
That had been the town's method since 1987, when the charter was created. Before then, Castle Rock residents had elected the mayor for several decades, although a town spokeswoman said it's unclear if the mayor was elected at-large throughout the town's entire history.
Reed ran as the only candidate who had previously served on town council, including four years where he sat as mayor under the old system. This experience made him the most qualified person to shepherd the town into its new form of governance, he said.
Fletcher is an IT professional who believed the town needed municipal broadband to entice more primary employers into the area. He ran his platform on the promise of smart growth and well-managed water resources.
Gray has owned and operated Crowfoot Valley Coffee since moving from Alaska in the late 1990s. He envisioned a Castle Rock with more primary employers to support the tax base and hoped the town could wean off its reliance on sales tax.
In a town where growth has become a hot button issue, none of the candidates ran as anti-growth candidates. At an Oct. 18 forum, all said growth could be beneficial to Castle Rock but that it needed to be “smart” and “managed.”
Each candidate raised and spent thousands leading up to the election.
Campaign contribution and expenditure reports between July and October, filed with the town, show Gray's election committee accepted contributions $1,000 or larger from real estate groups, $2,000 from a Chicago-based donor and $3,000 from the Riverwalk development in downtown Castle Rock. Additional out-of-state and out-of-county donors made contributions of several hundred dollars or more.
An Inverness-based Realtor Candidate Political Action Committee gave $1,000 each to Gray and Reed. The Metro Housing Coalition, based in Centennial, also gave both men $2,500.
Reed's contributions included $1,000 from donors in Cherry Hills Village and Denver. He gave approximately $2,400 to himself in contributions or loans.
Fletcher's filings show he received $3,000 from a Parker donor, contributions of $1,000 from himself and numerous small gift donations from Castle Rock donors.
All the men received donations from within Castle Rock, mostly in smaller amounts ranging from a few dollars to several hundred.
Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce President Pam Ridler said that because this was the first at-large mayor race since the town's charter was ratified, the campaign had garnered more attention and exposure.
Ridler said she wasn't familiar with mayoral campaign spending, but saw more chatter on social media, more campaign signs around town and more advertising from candidates than she noticed in past council elections.
Campaign filings show candidates' expenses centered around marketing, including postcards and yard signs; and digital marketing. Most of Fletcher's expenditures were for online advertising through Facebook.
The Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce does not take positions on individual candidates but does on issues. The chamber opposed the at-large referendum before it passed, in part because it believed campaigns would accept money from special interest groups and outside donors.
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