BARNSTABLE — In one of the final races to be decided on election night last Tuesday, Ronald Bergstrom of Chatham narrowly unseated County Commissioner Leo Cakounes of Harwich, shifting the balance of power in the county’s executive branch.
“I went to bed at 11:30 and I turned off all our phones,” Bergstrom said. With one media outlet having declared the race for his opponent, Bergstrom resigned himself to a loss. At 6 a.m., he received a call from a supporter indicating that he had prevailed by a Cape-wide margin of less than 350 votes. The towns of Wellfleet and Provincetown, among the last to report their poll numbers, turned the race in Bergstrom’s favor.
When he takes office on Jan. 2, Bergstrom said he will begin making good on campaign pledges to protect popular county programs.
“I want to maintain services at least where we have them now,” and possibly restore previous levels in the AmeriCorps Cape Cod program, he said. Bergstrom spent 12 years on the county assembly of delegates, eight as speaker. The assembly is Barnstable County's legislative branch of government. A Democrat, Bergstrom now moves to the three-member board of county commissioners, joining Democrat Mary Pat Flynn and Republican Ronald Beaty.
“I knew it was an uphill battle running against an incumbent,” Bergstrom said. Bergstrom bested Cakounes by 461 votes in Orleans and by a narrow 183 votes in his own town of Chatham; Cakounes carried Harwich by nearly 1,000 votes.
The loss was a bitter one for Cakounes, who is completing his fourth year as county commissioner; before that, he served three two-year terms on the county assembly.
“I’m going back to the farm. I’m looking forward to it, actually,” he said. Cakounes is a farmer and owner of Cape Farm Supply and Cranberry Company, and said he will now focus on his family and his business.
Admittedly still stinging from his loss at the polls, Cakounes said he will not seek elected office again.
“At this stage in my life, I feel like I’ve served the public well for over 25 years” in county government and on the Harwich Finance Committee, he said. “I’m not a good politician. I’ve always known that,” he said. While Cakounes said he enjoyed the public service, he said he never liked politicking.
Though it has existed since 1685, Barnstable County government adopted its current structure as part of a home rule charter approved by voters in 1989. Unlike most other counties in the state, Barnstable County provides a variety of services to Cape Cod towns, including a fire training academy, two dredges and public health and environmental programs. The county commissioner’s race was seen by some as a referendum on the size and scope of county government, with Cakounes acting as fiscal conservative and Bergstrom seeking to maintain or expand programs.
While Cakounes will continue to serve for the remainder of the calendar year, he said he does not intend to try and influence the fiscal 2020 county budget, leaving that for the new board to consider.
Meanwhile, incumbent county Commissioner Beaty has announced his intention to run for reelection “as a sensible Pro-Trump Republican candidate” in 2020. Beaty’s bombastic comments on social media have earned him a reputation as a loose cannon. He served 16 months in federal prison after being convicted of threatening then-President George H.W. Bush and other elected officials in 1991.
Bergstrom acknowledged Cakounes’ hard work for the county over the past decade.
“He invested a lot in that job,” Bergstrom said.
Bergstrom also thanked the residents of Barnstable County who voted for him last Tuesday.
“I’ll do whatever I can to make sure that their decision was a good one,” he said.