Gary Zalepa had no idea he had already won.
Sitting at home Monday night, trying to monitor the municipal election results on the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake's website, he knew he had been leading incumbent Lord Mayor Betty Disero by a few hundred votes.
But the town's new website was down for much of the first hour after the polls closed at 8 p.m.
When it was up, online results were slow and often behind those posted live on two screens in the NOTL Community Centre auditorium.
At home in Old Town, Zalepa, his wife Tammy, sister Alison, campaign chair Holly Dowd and members of the campaign team were unclear where things stood.
So, Dowd, the town's former chief administrator, reached out to the staff at the auditorium, wondering what was up.
The response: a text message with a screenshot showing Zalepa nearly 1,200 votes ahead of Disero – with all polls reporting.
"I wasn't sure it was real at first," Dowd said later.
Worried the news was too good to be true, she and Alison waited before mentioning it to the candidate.
"Then Gary got a phone call asking why he wasn't at the community centre" – because he'd won.
That's when Dowd told him what the screenshot showed, confirming his victory.
"Oh my God, it was so thrilling," she said.
Zalepa said his first thought was, "Is this really happening?"
Everyone jumped into their cars and headed to "election central" at the community centre.
There, the crowd of about 50 residents and a handful of candidates had already started to thin out after the final results went up on the screens at 9:08 p.m.
When the new lord mayor-elect walked through the doors of the community centre at 9:18, the applause, cheers and hugs helped it all sink in.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Zalepa told The Lake Report moments later. “I’m a bit overwhelmed.”
As he stood in the middle of the auditorium, with friends and supporters swirling around, he received the first of many congratulatory phone calls,
It was his son Nathan, a Royal Canadian Navy officer stationed in Esquimalt, B.C., calling to find out how it went.
"We won," his elated dad shouted, grinning from ear to ear.
Tuesday's official results showed Zalepa received 3,724 votes (49 per cent), topping Disero by 1,138 votes.
Disero polled 2,586 votes (34 per cent) and political newcomer Vaughn Goettler received 1,268 votes (17 per cent).
Zalepa led the race all night but early totals were close.
Initial results, including the advance polls, gave him a 112-vote lead. Then the gap widened to a few hundred.
But when the final handful of polls were posted of the community centre screens his lead had zoomed into a landslide.
The race for council was a little tighter.
Erwin Wiens topped the polls with 4,978 votes, followed by Gary Burroughs (4,273), Wendy Cheropita (3,774), Tim Balasiuk (3,742), Sandra O’Connor (3,391), Nick Ruller (3,318), Adriana Cater Vizzari (3,152) and Maria Mavridis (2,897).
By garnering the most votes as a councillor candidate, Wiens will be the new deputy lord mayor.
With three other incumbents retiring, the result brings a substantially new look to council, with Balasiuk, Ruller, Cater Vizzari and Mavridis all political rookies.
Incumbent council candidate Allan Bisback, with 2,831 votes, lost his seat, finishing 66 votes behind Mavridis.
Results for the other councillor candidates were: John McCallum (2,481 votes), Richard Mell (2,079), Alistair Harlond (1,979) and Katherine Reid (1,645).
Andrea Kaiser will be the town’s new regional councillor after earning 3,100 votes (44 per cent). Paolo Miele was second with 1,709 and William Roberts was third with 1,134.
Even though they dropped out of the regional race before election day, Pat Darte (910 votes) and Barbara Worthy (187), attracted some support, polling more than 1,000 votes.
In the race for Niagara District School Board trustee (representing NOTL and St. Catharines), Lora Campbell, Kate Baggott, Jonathan Fast and Alex Bradnam were elected.
Natalia Benoit and Larry Huibers won the race for the Niagara Catholic District School Board.
Voter turnout was 47.79 per cent, down substantially from about 58 per cent who cast ballots in 2018.
The term for the new lord mayor and council begins Nov. 15 and their inaugural meeting is scheduled for Nov. 22.
Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report