One day after a convincing political victory, Stephanie Orman said she was eager to bridge the divide of a sometimes contentious campaign.
“Whichever way you voted [Tuesday], today is a new day,” Orman said. “And it’s time to come together. I think there are a lot of passionate people in Bentonville…so I am looking forward to this opportunity.”
After a long and competitive campaign, Orman, a Bentonville City Council member who announced her candidacy in July, was elected Bentonville mayor Tuesday night, earning 63.27% of the vote in a runoff election against Jim Webb. She received 3,226 votes in the runoff, while Webb trailed with 1,873 votes. The voting total represents 5,099 of the city’s 29,354 registered voters, or about 17%. The runoff drew 2,838 early votes, according to election officials.
“We really have an amazing community,” Orman said. “I’m just thankful for all of our volunteers and the people who invited me into their homes to talk about concerns and reached out. Two of our big themes have been about being accessible and being accountable, and that’s how we will continue our approach at the city and working with our residents.”
Orman said as of mid-morning Wednesday she had yet to speak to Webb by telephone but was hoping to do so. Webb did not respond to a message from the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal seeking comment.
Their month-long runoff was necessary after none of the five candidates seeking the office earned 50% of the vote on Nov. 6. Webb (5,595 votes) and Orman (5,193) were separated by about 400 votes three weeks ago. John Skaggs, a retired municipal and district judge who served two terms on the city council, was a distant third.
The mayor-elect said her immediate plans are to begin the process of properly transitioning into her new job. She is director of social media and community involvement for an automotive dealership in Bentonville. She will leave that behind as she readies to be sworn in as mayor Jan. 1.
The mayor’s annual salary in Bentonville is $132,954.
Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin, who chose not to seek re-election after holding the office since 2006, will work with Orman on her transition into office. With the election complete, Orman will also begin to transition out of campaign mode and into the mindset of Bentonville’s top elected official, with an eye on the work that lies ahead.
“I talked a lot about communication with the public and one of the programs I talked about was Bentonville 311,” Orman said. “Communication is such an important aspect between the public and our city employees and this program will help with that.”
Other initiatives Orman will be working to get in place quickly are a city scorecard to communicate department priorities and goals to the public, and establishing community roundtable discussions.
“I’ve often said we are able to solve problems with community input, so I will be excited to put some of those together and work together to make Bentonville better,” she said.
Orman will be the 52nd mayor in the history of Bentonville, which is the fastest-growing city in Arkansas, according to the latest U.S. Census data. The town’s population grew from 20,169 in 2000 to 49,298 in 2017, a 144% increase.
The dynamics of a runoff election vary greatly from that of a general election, but the race in Bentonville may have been influenced by bribery allegations that surfaced following the Nov. 6 election. Based on an anonymous tip, local NBC affiliate KNWA-TV aired a report that said Webb offered a city administrative position to Skaggs, in exchange for his endorsement. That’s a violation of Arkansas Code, according to a general provision outlined under elections.
Webb, a Bentonville native and former city council member, vehemently denied the charge and told CBS affiliate KFSM-TV, Channel 5, that Skaggs’ statements were part of a “smear campaign” from Orman. Webb also denied the claim in an off-the-cuff appearance during a live shot discussing the claims from Bentonville’s downtown square, leading off KNWA’s 6 p.m. newscast on Nov. 15.
“There are several things that have happened throughout this campaign that I think have been divisive, and my campaign is trying to move forward and bring people together and that’s what we want to do going forward,“ Orman told KNWA at the time.