Voters in Rehoboth Beach, Del., reelected their mayor yesterday by a wide margin, bringing to a close the most bitter campaign the seashore town has seen in years and signaling the residents' desire to preserve the town's character in the face of development pressure.
Mayor Sam Cooper was elected to his sixth three-year term with 768 votes, almost two-thirds of the 1,191 votes cast. His opponent, Bob Sokolove, a restaurant owner, rode a wave of support from the town's real estate and business community to give Cooper his most competitive race. Sokolove garnered 413 votes.
For months, the candidates volleyed stinging attacks -- on such issues as development as well as on personality and character -- in a campaign that seemed to divide the one-square-mile resort town of 1,500 full-time residents. On the line was the future makeup of Rehoboth, which long has been a popular vacation spot for Washingtonians.
As property values soar along the Delaware shoreline, sprawling residential developments and shopping centers have been sprouting on former farmland west of the beaches. Rehoboth is under pressure from developers who want to buy its beach bungalows and early 20th-century cottages, tear them down and build bigger, suburban-style houses that would sell for large sums.
Those seeking to preserve what they see as the town's charm have squared off against supporters of development. The conflict expressed itself in a mayoral race that was unusually fierce for a place where all candidates are neighbors.
"I think we have the backing of the people to go forward with the idea of preserving the town and the character of the town into the future," said Cooper, 53, who was born in Rehoboth and lives in the white Victorian cottage his grandfather built in 1918.
Sokolove, 52, campaigned on what he said was the inevitability of development, which he said must be controlled by land-use regulations. Although he had long vacationed in Rehoboth, Sokolove only recently moved permanently to the town, and he said he thinks voters were reluctant to elect a newcomer.
"I'm disappointed, certainly," Sokolove said. "I never play to do anything but win, and we lost, but hopefully the election will have brought issues up to the top."