It's official: A retired attorney rode a write-in campaign for mayor all the way to City Hall in Washington County, beating out the two candidates named on the ballot in last week's election.
Margaret Ford's win was certified Tuesday evening by the Birchwood Village canvassing board. They confirmed that Ford garnered 271 write-in votes, with the two candidates on the ballot, James Nelson and Michael McKenzie, garnering 171 and 146 votes, respectively.
Ford, whose family has deep roots in the Birchwood Village community nestled on White Bear Lake's south shore, wanted to be on the ballot but a family medical emergency caused her to cancel her plans. It wasn't until September that the health matters cleared up, and Ford decided to resume her campaign.
She had missed the deadline to be on the ballot by then, but steeled her campaign with a group of supporters, the endorsement of outgoing mayor Mary Wingfield and the slogan "Come together 'write' now."
"It was a really a grassroots groundswell that said, 'We'd like another choice,'" Ford said.
Ford knocked on doors over the weekends, and her campaign volunteers put out 50 yard signs in one night early on. They put up 25 more that week.
Ford said she enjoyed getting out on the weekends to meet people. Locals told her that they want more avenues of communication with City Hall, some consensus on how to use green spaces, a discussion on affordability, and continued vigilance against traffic.
The leafy enclave, population about 860, saw a disastrous summer of traffic jams brought on by a lengthy repair and renovation of Highway 12/Wildwood Road. Drivers looking for a shortcut shot through Birchwood Village, sometimes at high speeds, leading city officials to erect traffic control signs and temporary one-way designations.
On election night, she didn't know what to make of the totals coming in until she saw a notice about 11 p.m. that there had been more write-in votes cast than votes for either of the candidates on the ballot. The unusual campaign led to some confusion. The Star Tribune incorrectly named one of the men on the ballot as the winner in the Nov. 11 edition before the write-in votes were publicized.
Ford was an attorney in private practice with a focus on property tax law before retiring in 2020.
Wingfield, who helped manage Ford's campaign after deciding to bow out of local politics, said she first met Ford a year ago when she was looking for volunteers.
"When I reached out to her she said, 'What can I do to help?' She rolled up her sleeves. We were out there chipping buckthorn, hauling brush, cleaning up the town, dirty to the max, and when we finished she said, 'What can I do next to help?' "
Wingfield said voters were skeptical that a write-in candidate could win. "We had to convince people that Margaret was a viable candidate."
McKenzie, one of the two candidates on the ballot, said Tuesday that he knew Ford would be a formidable candidate once she threw her hat in.
"It was well organized," he said of her write-in campaign. The mayor's endorsement did a lot to help Ford, said McKenzie, and in a small enclave like Birchwood Village, the outgoing mayor knows just about everyone.