The numbers were greater than in the recent council election, where only about 10,000 showed up to cast votes. Sixty-eight percent voted to recall Mayor Holley and 32 percent wanted Holley to stay in office.
The recall effort began with a round of complaints from one of his former assistants that he created a hostile work environment. The City Council voted to ask Mayor Holley to resign, and when he refused, a petition drive was initiated to force Holley out.
This is the second time Mayor Holley has been recalled, but is the end of a political career that spans 42 years.
Mayor James Holley did not want to hear the news.
"I want all the numbers," he said. And those numbers came in quickly at the voter registration office.
Robert Marcus, the architect of the recall effort, was there watching the returns.
"I have to tell you that I am shocked that this many people came out," he said
More voters came out than in the previous two city wide council elections, and the loss could not be misunderstood.
Holley did not want updates on the vote count.
"What are you trying to scare me out of office? Take it easy now," he said. "Wait till everything [has] been counted."
The mayor's son took the numbers and shared the news with his father. He was gracious in defeat surrounded by his children--the veteran of many political wars tried to put the election in perspective:
"I know you have some disappointment. Well, that goes in the political process. You win some elections and you lose some."
The supporters thanked Holley, and he urged them to stay engaged in the political process he has dedicated his life to, "...be involved in the democratic process, that you fulfill the responsibility to improve the quality of life for the Portsmouth family."
Councilwoman Elizabeth Psimas says the election showed voters want Portsmouth to have a mayor who can be a leader at the regional table.
"First we need to celebrate [Mayor Holley's] good service. Second, we must unify the city back together...there has been a racial divide...there have been hurt feelings...now is the time to come back together."
Preliminary analysis of the returns show Holley did well in predominately African American precincts, but the voter turnout there was not enough to make a difference. The predominately white precincts overwhelming voted against Holley.
The election will be certified at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Portsmouth City Council is scheduled to meet in closed session tomorrow at 5 p.m., where they may appoint an interim mayor until November, when a new mayor will be elected by the voters.\