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ZACK WAJSGRAS/THE DAILY PROGRESS City Council candidate Michael Payne reacts as Mayor Nikuyah Walker arrives during a watch party at Quality Pie on Tuesday. Democratic candidates for Charlottesville City Council and the 57th House District seat held their watch parties at breweries and restaurants across town.

Updated at 11:26 p.m.

And then there were three.

Michael Payne, Lloyd Snook and Sena Magill rose to the top of the field to win the three Democratic nominations for Charlottesville City Council up for grabs in Tuesday’s primary, according to unofficial results from the Virginia Department of Elections.

The trio was among five candidates seeking their party’s nomination for three open seats on the five-member council.

Councilors Wes Bellamy and Mike Signer did not seek re-election. Councilor Kathy Galvin sought the Democratic nomination for the 57th District seat in the House of Delegates, but was unsuccessful in Tuesday’s primary.

When the four-year terms of Bellamy, Signer and Galvin expire in December, none of the councilors in office will have been in their position during the Unite the Right rally.

On Tuesday, city residents could cast a ballot for as many as three candidates, but could vote for fewer. According to unofficial counts from the Charlottesville Registrar’s Office, at least 4,050 ballots didn’t have three candidates selected. City officials could not provide a total number of ballots cast on Tuesday night.

Payne, an activist, won the most votes, with 3,657. He took seven out of nine city precincts.

Snook, a criminal-defense attorney, placed second, with 3,501 votes, despite raising far more money than any other candidate. He won only two precincts — Alumni Hall and Walker. 

"I hope that we will be able to develop a common approach to these issues, and work together to address affordable housing, transportation planning, and climate change," Snook wrote in an email late Tuesday night.

Magill, a member of the board of the Region Ten Community Services Board, came in third, with 3,183 votes.

Brian Pinkston, a University of Virginia project manager, placed a close fourth, with 3,073 votes.

The race was too close to call until absentee ballots were reported around 10 p.m., three hours after polls closed.

Former Councilor Bob Fenwick came in at a distant fifth, with 1,227 votes. This was his fifth run for the City Council and his third as a Democrat. He has only won once and wrapped up that term in 2017. He didn’t return a call for comment Tuesday night.

Three dozen people packed the inside of Quality Pies on Tuesday night to cheer on Payne, including Mayor Nikuyah Walker and one-time running mate Don Gathers.

Once all but the absentee votes were counted, Payne stood to claps and cheers.

“As a community, we have been through a tremendous amount through the past few years ... but we’ve learned a lot as a community, and I hope this shows that we can dig to the roots of fundamental inequality and make systematic change,” Payne said.

He said he believes his campaign proved that progressive politics and grassroots campaigning worked in Charlottesville.

“This is the wave; we’re up,” said Tomas Rohal, the owner of Quality Pies and a Payne supporter.

Magill gathered with a jubilant crowd at Bluegrass Grill. She said she was “still shell-shocked” once the final vote numbers were reported on Tuesday night. She expressed respect for Pinkston and Fenwick and looked forward to the November election.

“It’s been difficult to accept that this is reality,” Magill said with a smile. “This is like a relay race and this is leg one.”

Pinkston, clad in a pink polo, was with a small crowd of supporters at Kardinal Hall on Tuesday and reminisced on the work from the campaign. At the gathering, he said he didn’t want to comment until the results were finalized.

Reached later by phone, he thanked those he met in the campaign and those who voted for him.

“I hope that the City Council will be able to work well as a group and I look forward to serving the city in some way in the future,” he said.

Turnout was much lower than in the 2017 Democratic primary.

In 2017, turnout was about 40% at 4 p.m., according to Daily Progress archives. This year, it was only 13% at that time.

Payne, Snook and Magill will be on the November ballot with Bellamy Brown, John Hall and Paul Long, who qualified without party affiliation.

The three independent candidates could have an uphill climb. Walker, who won a seat on the council in 2017, was the first candidate without party affiliation to win a City Council election in more than 70 years.

Daily Progress staff writer Ruth Serven Smith contributed to this story.

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City hall reporter

Nolan Stout is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7274, nstout@dailyprogress.com, or @nstoutDP on Twitter.

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