Sean Murphy elected new mayor of Telluride

Sean Murphy, at right, makes his acceptance speech on KOTO Radio Tuesday night after he was elected Telluride mayor. Brian Ahern, who spearheaded the successful effort to institute term limits for San Miguel County commissioners, looks on. 

[Photo by Scott Ostrom]

Sean Murphy was elected Mayor of Telluride Tuesday after a long night in which election staff hand-counted a record number of ballots in an election so close it triggered instant run-off procedure.

After the first round of ballots was counted, “Glider” Bob Saunders had received 495 votes, besting Murphy’s 491 votes by a razor-thin margin. Todd Brown received 112 votes. A handful of ballots either had no candidates or too many candidates selected; they were discarded. 

Because no candidate received the mandatory majority of the vote — 560 votes was the threshold for 50 percent of the vote, plus one — instant run-off voting was triggered. Under that procedure, Brown was removed from the running and the second-place choices from the ballots cast for him were added to the tallies of Saunders and Murphy. 

After the second round, Murphy bested Saunders with 574 votes to 515 votes, pushing Murphy over the mark to become the town’s next mayor. (Sixteen ballots expressed no second choice preference, and one ballot voted for too many candidates.)

A calm Murphy arrived on the second floor of the San Miguel County Courthouse, where a team of eight town staff and volunteer counters were busy tallying votes, just minutes before he was declared the victor. He shared hugs with supporters after the final results were revealed by Telluride Interim Town Clerk Tiffany Kavanaugh on a hand-written board. 

Moments later, Murphy exited the county courthouse and more supporters greeted him in the middle of Colorado Avenue, where they hooted and hollered in celebration of Murphy’s win.

“Twelve days ago, Gus Kenworthy rocked the airwaves by announcing that he is gay. Tonight, a new Telluride majority rocked the vote and elected the town’s first gay mayor. It’s been a good 12 days for Team Telluride and for Team Gay USA,” Murphy said in a victory speech he emailed to the Planet.

“Tonight, a new Telluride majority resoundingly rejected tribalism and rear view mirror orientation. Tonight, a new Telluride majority sent a loud and clear message of inclusion and forward-thinking. The torch has been passed to a new generation. It’s a generation that cares less about skin color and sexual orientation than it does about what talents each of us brings to the table and how everyone can collaborate to solve problems,” Murphy continued.

“Tomorrow, a new era of collective problem-solving begins. You are enthusiastically invited to join the conversation, regardless of whether you have been a town resident for 22 days or 44 years. The hard work begins tomorrow, but for tonight let’s savor the historic milestones of the past 12 days: Rosie, Wendy, Doug and Casey saved Gay Ski Week. Gus came out. And our town came out in force to elect its first gay mayor,” he concluded.

Telluride’s Interim Town Clerk Tiffany Kavanaugh said that this was a record-setting election for mayor, with the most ballots ever cast for the town’s highest elected office. More than 1,000 votes were cast for the position in an extremely tight race.

Votes for mayor were tallied by hand because of Telluride’s uncommon instant run-off procedure; it took four hours from the moment polls closed at 7 p.m. for a winner to be declared. Each ballot was carefully counted out loud, by hand, and verified by an Oreo- and pizza-fueled staff. As the hours ticked by and a small handful of onlookers watched the proceedings, the deliberate procedure unfurled: “Bundle 10, batch two. Murphy. Saunders. Murphy. Saunders. Murphy.” 

It was clear from the start that a neck-and-neck race was underway. It took hours to determine who would emerge the victor, as determined by the lively counting room.

Mayoral candidate Brown was also present when Kavanaugh revealed the final results, written by hand on a large poster board. He graciously congratulated Murphy on his win; a majority of his supporters had helped boost Murphy to victory.

“Congratulations to Sean. Now the healing begins, and we continue with the process of taking care of the town,” Brown said. 

Saunders declined to comment after the final results came in.

Murphy is the owner of Arroyo Gallery and Wine Bar on main street Telluride. He moved to town three and a half years ago after a career in New York City as a tax lawyer. He was elected to serve the remainder of Thom Carnevale’s Telluride Town Council seat in February after Carnevale stepped down early.

In previous interviews with the Planet, Murphy said he wanted to change public discourse about the town’s operations and future, making a particular effort to ensure everyone in the box canyon understands what their government is trying to achieve, and how.