As she waited for the first round of election results on Tuesday night, Arroyo Grande Councilwoman Caren Ray clutched her son, staring anxiously at the screen hanging in the banquet room of Rooster Creek Tavern.
“We’re ahead!”she said after the County Clerk-Recorder’s ballot counts appeared on the screen, showing her leading incumbent Mayor Jim Hill by about four points. At the same time, Ray’s supporters erupted in cheers.
Ray was on her way to becoming the first female mayor in the city in decades.
“Going forward, the first thing I’m looking forward to is getting back to business for the city of Arroyo Grande,” she said Tuesday night. “I’m so happy that the election is, for whatever happens tonight, over, and we can get back to the business of the people.”
The final results are still pending provisional and remaining mail-in ballot counts, which could take up to two weeks. But with all 12 local precincts reporting, and more than 4,400 mail-in votes counted, Ray seemed poised to be the next mayor of Arroyo Grande as of Wednesday morning.
“It’s not over, obviously,” she told The Tribune in a phone call Wednesday. “But I remain cautiously optimistic.”
Ray said Hill, who was running for his third term in office, emailed her congratulations Tuesday night. She said she responded by thanking Hill for his four years of service to the city.
As of early Wednesday afternoon, Hill had not returned Tribune requests for comment on the early election results.
If the trend continues as the rest of the votes are tallied, Ray could be the first female mayor in Arroyo Grande since B’Ann Smith in 1984, and the second elected female mayor in the city’s history.
On Wednesday, Ray said she was proud of the distinction — and that she hopes it encourages other women to get into politics as well.
“It has changed a lot,” she said. “It shows that the playing field has been leveled, and anyone that wants to serve their community can do it.”
She said she was additionally proud of running a “clean, positive campaign” for mayor despite personal attacks from her opposition.
“I genuinely am so heartened,” she said. “It’s so negative across the nation, but here in Arroyo Grande, our community said ‘no’ to that.”
Ray, who is halfway through her four-year term on the City Council, will have to vacate her council seat for the rest of its term if elected as mayor.
If that happens, city clerk Kelly Wetmore said it would be up to the council to decide how to fill Ray’s spot. Previously the council has chosen to fill unplanned vacancies by appointing someone, Wetmore said.
Meanwhile, the City Council will feature two new faces. Jimmy Paulding and Keith Storton solidly held down the top two spots for the open seats on the council as of Wednesday morning.
Paulding, who unsuccesfully ran against Fourth District Supervisor Lynn Compton for her seat on the county Board of Supervisors in June, said Tuesday night that he was looking forward to representing the city of Arroyo Grande.
“In the city of Arroyo Grande we have quite a few issues that need to be addressed — the Brisco (Road) interchange would be one in particular,” he said. “We have a couple of options that nobody seems to like, so we really need folks that are looking at it from a fresh perspective.”
Storton, a retired police officer, said on Tuesday night said he was excited to start “working together with the other council members that will be elected and really coming together and identifying some serious issues with our budget and other issues that are important to the community ...”