April 09, 2013 11:55 pm
By NANCY HICKS / Lincoln Journal Star
Two political novices led the pack and the lone incumbent barely advanced in Tuesday’s City Council primary.
Roy Christensen, an audiologist who owns a hearing center, was the top vote-getter in the final count.
Meg Mikolajczyk, a young attorney with no political experience and a hard-to-pronounce last name, was a close second.
Christensen credited his top placing to a strong campaign — “knocking on a lot of doors and listening to people.”
Christensen, who spent primary night celebrating his 31st wedding anniversary, said he visited with a lot of groups, listening and learning what is important to people.
Mikolajczyk (pronounced mike-o-lie-check), a late entry to the race, raised the least amount of money of the traditional candidates, around $6,000, and was not expected to place in the top four.
The Democrats recruited her in late February after Roger Dodson withdrew because of health issues.
“They said it couldn’t really be done without any money,” Mikolajczyk said about her strong showing.
But Lincoln “cares about a strong message and an open, honest candidate,” she said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. “I say what I think.”
And in another unexpected twist, the man with the most city political experience and the only incumbent, Gene Carroll, was in sixth place.
“Well, tomorrow is a new day and I will go out and focus on the positives of my campaign The voters decide who they want in that office,” he said Tuesday.
Before the primary Carroll was the target of attack ads by an independent committee, with donations primarily from Republicans.
The top six candidates move on to the May 7 general election for the three at-large council seats.
Leirion Gaylor Baird, a planning commissioner, and local businessman Mark Whitehead, president and CEO of Whitehead Oil, made up the rest of the top four. Just 600 votes separated the top four candidates.
Trent Fellers, active in Republican politics and a deputy director of the state Energy Office, was in fifth place.
Norman Dority, who has run for at least nine offices in the past 30 years, was trailing far behind the pack in seventh place. He will not advance.
The six candidates who made it through the primary will begin a hectic month of campaigning, talking to groups, knocking on doors, soliciting donations, planting more yard signs, running ads.
The action begins Wednesday, with a candidate forum at the Realtors Association of Lincoln luncheon.
“It is an all-out sprint. There is no marathon involved,” said Don Wesely, former Lincoln mayor and state senator, who has run in both city elections and state elections where there is five months between the primary and general election.
In fact you have to run full speed, once you announce in the winter, he said of the short city races.
The primary may have eliminated just one person, but the placings were still important to the other six candidates, who will be looking for donations and endorsements in the next few weeks.
Ranking does count. The top four candidates will be able to raise money more easily, according to several campaign veterans.
And the three winners in the general election have historically come from the top four candidates in the primary for the at-large council seats.
No fifth- or sixth-place primary candidate has made it to the top three since at least 1977.
But being a front-runner in this six-person race, does not guarantee victory. Front-runners do lose, and there have been some big upsets in the past, Wesely said.
Jerry Shoecraft, top vote-getter in the 2001 primary, lost in the general election and Ken Svoboda, who was second in the 2009 primary, lost that May.
Being an incumbent is not necessarily a magic ticket to victory, either. An incumbent was defeated in the past three at-large races — Shoecraft in 2001; Terry Werner in 2005 and Svoboda in 2009.
Though the council is officially a nonpartisan race, with no party labels on the ballot, party does matter.
Both Republican and Democratic parties will continue to be active in the general election race, where there will be three Republicans and three Democrats on the ballot.
Mayor Chris Beutler, a Democrat, has had an easier time getting his budget plan and his agenda through the council, with a Democratic majority that tend to agree philosophically with him.
Democrats have been in the majority the past four years. Currently there are five Democrats and two Republicans on the council, but the ratio could change with this election.
However, Republicans will have to take all three seats to create a majority.