Recount seals it: Derek Young edges Stan Flemming for Pierce County Council

Former Gig Harbor City Councilman Derek Young will join the Pierce County Council next year, diluting the majority Republicans’ power by becoming the third Democrat on the seven-member council.

Young’s slow march to victory ended Thursday when a hand recount of ballots preserved the edge he’s held over incumbent Councilman Stan Flemming since the Nov. 4 election.

The final results certified by Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson show Young with a 94-vote victory over Flemming. The margin increased by one vote during the recount; Young was credited with 17 more votes than he had during the regular election tallies, while Flemming was credited with 16 more votes.

Some ballots with very light marks were identified by the recounting teams; these ballots had not been credited to either candidate during the past weeks’ machine tabulations, Anderson said.

Young said he’s relieved to have the election over, and he’s ready to get to work on issues such as shoreline management, mental health services and financial problems at the Pierce County Jail.

“It obviously went a little longer than one would like, but it’s important to get it right,” he told The News Tribune.

He said he was thankful to Flemming for his career in public service.

Young had run the gauntlet of a recount once before when he won a Gig Harbor City Council seat in 1997. But it wasn’t nearly on this scale.

“It’s odd to see your name on a ballot at all, but it’s even stranger when people are talking about your race exclusively because there are no others going on,” he said. “That’s the part that makes it surreal.”

The Young-Flemming race was the only Pierce County ballot item from the general election yet to be settled.

In regular ballot tallies before this week’s recount, Young ended up 93 votes ahead of his fellow Gig Harbor resident for the Council District 7 seat. The ultra-close finish was enough to trigger a mandatory manual recount, which started Monday.

Final numbers from the recount, according to Anderson: 220,827 total ballots sorted (three times); 45,396 ballots recounted; and an estimated $35,000 in labor costs.

In a statement released Thursday, Flemming thanked his supporters for “countless hours” of doorbelling, sign waving and other campaign work.

“I stand tall with integrity – we fought the good fight,” he said in his statement.

Flemming pointed to his failure to win Tacoma voters as the key to his loss. North and West Tacoma were grafted on to his district when political boundaries were redrawn in 2011, while his former home of University Place was drawn out of the district.

The incumbent said in his statement that despite the strong voter support he enjoyed on the west side of the Narrows Bridges, “the voters of north Tacoma, who have a minimal amount to gain, spoke with a louder voice.”

Flemming, 61, is a Republican who was running for a second term on the County Council. He’s a former state legislator and was a University Place city councilman for 14 years, serving as the city’s first mayor. He also is a physician and a retired Army reserve brigadier general.

Young, 38, is a Democrat who was on the Gig Harbor City Council for 16 years. He runs his own graphic design business.

The two men were vying for a four-year seat on the council representing the Gig Harbor and Key peninsulas, the nearby islands and portions of Tacoma. The position pays $107,602 a year.

Young’s election will lessen the scope of the council's majority power. Flemming is one of five Republicans on the current seven-member council — enough to pass measures requiring a supermajority. Most tax increases require a supermajority, as does an override of any veto by County Executive Pat McCarthy, a Democrat.

Young said he thinks adding a third Democrat to the council will result in less partisanship.

“We can’t afford to be reduced to our partisan labels,” he said. “I think it’s good to have 4-3 split rather than a majority going in a single direction.”