Alan Swank found out that he defeated incumbent Athens City fourth ward Councilmember Chris Fahl in the May 4 primary election while he was enjoying a meal with a friend who drove in from Granville simply to support him on the big night.
He received an outpouring of texts and phone calls from his supporters to congratulate him on the victory. The past few months have been busy, after all.
"When you spend a good three months totally immersed in something like this, it's like a 24-inning baseball game that's supposed to be nine," Swank said.
According to unofficial election results provided by the Athens County Board of Elections, Swank received 184 votes to Fahl’s 98.
Voter turnout for this year’s primary among Athens County Democrats was less than 40 percent, with only 282 of the fourth ward’s 721 registered Fourth Ward Democratic voters casting a ballot, as no Republicans filed to run for the seat.
Swank, a longtime resident of the fourth ward, which consists of Athens’ East Side, came to the area in the 1970s to attend Ohio University for graduate school. He later became a teacher at Athens High School, where he also coached girls volleyball and track. Eventually, he entered into the yearbook sales business.
Swank’s community involvement includes his past service as vice president of the East Elementary School’s PTO and three terms of presidency of OU’s former Green and White Club, the university’s athletic boosters.
He’s currently chair of the Athens Arts, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and was the first president of the Far East Side Neighborhood Association. Previously, Swank ran unsuccessfully in the 2015 Democratic primary seeking an at-large City Council seat.
Swank told The NEWS that he respected his opponent greatly, nodding to their campaigns focusing on policy rather than personal blows.
"It was refreshing," he said.
He noted that although his term doesn't begin until next year, he hopes to immediately begin work toward improving city issues he discussed on the campaign trail, including affordable housing and social and racial justice, to name a few.
During the campaign, Swank said, he called upon every house in the fourth ward, and he felt that helped people feel more engaged with him and his pursuit toward election to City Council.
Swank thanked the many people who helped him with his campaign, particularly his campaign treasurer John Barrington. Swank also pointed to his immediate support group: his wife Terry, his children and their spouses.
Fahl has held her seat in City Council since 2009, with Swank being her first ever challenger. During her tenure, Fahl played a role in passing legislation that governs the disposal of hazardous materials to protect the city’s single source aquifer.
She also helped establish City Council’s affordable housing commission, an effort to provide low-cost housing for young professionals. Additionally, Fahl also played a significant role in implementing the city’s comprehensive plan, which outlines Athens’ aspirations over the next two decades.
On Tuesday afternoon, The NEWS requested contact information from Fahl to use for a request for comment after election results were announced.
"Is there a primary?" Fahl replied, providing her phone number.
Fahl commented to The NEWS the day following the election that she was out of town, but wished Swank well.
"Our democracy is strengthened when people become involved," she said. "Elections mean someone loses, but the winner is democracy. Good luck to Alan."
Swank will be another new face sitting on City Council, as newly appointed Councilmember Ben Ziff, a Democrat, took over the seat left vacant by former Councilmember Peter Kotses.
Primary election results will be certified in the coming weeks.
Looking ahead, Ohio’s general election is slated for Nov. 2. Locally, candidate Solveig Speldjnes filed to run as a Democrat for the First Ward seat to be left vacant by Councilmember Arian Smedley, who announced in January that she would not seek a second term. Two Independents have also filed to run at-large for City Council: Damon Krane and Iris Virjee.
A special election to elect a replacement for the seat soon to be left vacant by Steve Stivers, Ohio’s 15th District congressman, is also slated for Nov. 2 with an Aug. 3 primary.
Editor's note: Ben Peters contributed reporting. This story has been updated to include candidates' commentary.