Friday, Nov. 09, 2012
Election cliffhanger: Some races still too close to call
Villalta is mayor; Lewis, Stonegrove fill council seats
By Thaddeus Miller / firstname.lastname@example.org
Uncertainty clouded some of the local races in Los Banos but other choices were more clear cut.
Reports of voting irregularity in the school district races -- a handful of voters said they were given the wrong ballot at the poll or via absentee -- has put those results up in the air until next week.
What was clear Tuesday was that Mayor Mike Villalta and Councilwoman Elizabeth Stonegrove will each serve a second term.
Villalta garnered 4,014 votes (59 percent) Tuesday, while challenger Joe Sousa, who gave up his City Council seat to vie for the mayoral position, held 40.1 percent with 2,728 votes.
"It feels wonderful that the public had enough confidence in me to elect me to a second term," Villalta said.
The incumbent's campaign focused on making Los Banos friendly to business. He voted to suspend Regional Transportation Impact Fees, charged to developers, while in his first term.
Sousa asked developers to pay for new construction, arguing that it would come back on residents eventually. He said he would restore relationships Villalta had ruined with county representatives and neighboring cities.
The candidates also disagreed on the funding of a county homeless effort that benefited locals. Sousa voted to contribute to the program, while Villalta led the charge to keep the $12,000 in the city's general fund.
Villalta outpaced Sousa sevenfold in campaign contributions as of the last filing deadline, Oct. 5. The incumbent brought in $21,000 to the challenger's $3,000.
Villalta said he wants to focus on bringing jobs to the area.
"I think we are moving in the right direction," Villalta said.
City Council seats
Stonegrove acquired 3,043 votes, or 29.7 percent, to retain her City Council seat.
"I look forward to serving the community of Los Banos for four more years," Stonegrove said.
In her second term, Stonegrove said, she wants to build relationships with county and state officials. First on the to-do list is hiring a city manager.
"I'm disappointed we don't have one already," Stonegrove said.
The remaining seat went to Deborah Lewis, who received the most votes with 3,178, or 31 percent.
"I was happy that the constituents of Los Banos have faith in me," Lewis said.
This was the retired public guardian's third attempt at a council seat. Lewis, a Los Banos resident for 23 years, said she plans to uphold her platform of attracting business to and strengthening public safety in Los Banos.
Stonegrove and Lewis beat pastor Steve Hammond and engineer Arkady Faktorovich, who received 2,197 and 1,780 votes, respectively.
School board seats
The Los Banos Unified School District board of trustees spots remain too close to call, and some ballot mix-ups further confuse the numbers.
For the first time, the trustees were split into districts and polling places tended to house more than one precinct.
Merced County Registrar of Voters Kent Christensen said he received reports Tuesday from voters who said they were given the wrong trustee ballots.
"We don't think the numbers will be very large," he said. "We did everything we could to correct that problem."
Christensen said pollworkers were trained properly, and didn't know why there was confusion.
As of presstime Thursday, retired teacher Tommy Jones led manufacturing engineer Thomas Higby 637 to 302 in the race for District 2.
The other district races are closer. Attorney Dominic Falasco leads incumbent Colleen Menefee by 11 votes (569 to 558) in District 4, while retiree Carole Duffy outpaces incumbent Jack Vasquez by 55 votes (578 to 523) in District 6.
Christensen said he does not expect to know the winners until next week.
"I got too many vote-by-mail ballots to call anything," he said.
After the mail-in ballots have been counted, if some of the elections are still very close and the results are challenged, it could be longer before final results are known.
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at email@example.com.