A couple of hours after reporting being threatened by a sign-stealing man wielding a two-by-four, community activist Joshua Blick got the most votes in the primary election for Wichita City Council District 4.
Tuesday night’s election returns set up a general-election matchup between Blick and Goddard school board member Jeff Blubaugh for the open seat.
Blick led the field with 41 percent, while Blubaugh polled 29 percent after the Sedgwick County Election Office reported all precincts had been counted. Restaurateur Craig Gabel and Wal-Mart clerk David Glover trailed with 23 and 5 percent, respectively.
In District 6, incumbent Janet Miller outpolled Marty Mork 79 percent to 10 percent; Richard Stephenson finished third with 9 percent.
Ditto for District 3, where incumbent James Clendenin buried his closest rival, activist Clinton Coen, 73 percent to 13 percent. Mary Dean finished third with 12 percent.
The top two candidates in each race advance to the general election April 2. Turnout was a dismal 4.69 percent, suppressed by a series of snowstorms that kept people away from advance voting sites and icy streets that lingered into the morning on Election Day.
About 30 provisional ballots countywide are still to be certified and could be counted.
With Coen besting Dean by 13 votes and Mork ahead of Stephenson by 15, it appears unlikely there are enough to change the results.
It was an eventful day for Blick that included swearing out a police report against a man he said was tearing up his signs and threatened him.
Blick said he was at the Dollar Tree store at Seneca and Pawnee with his 14-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, buying supplies for his election-night party, when they spotted a man pulling up his signs. Blick said he started taking video of the man and then confronted him, asking what he was doing.
He said the man picked up a tree branch and a two-by-four and threatened him. He said an onlooker called police, who took a report about the incident.
Blick said the assailant said he had been directed by his boss to take down Blick’s signs and leave Gabel’s alone.
Gabel said he didn’t know anything about Tuesday’s incident. However, he said, he had personally removed about 20 of Blick’s signs that were posted without permission on Gabel-owned properties in south Wichita.
Blick credited his strong showing to “a lot of hard work and effort” and said he knocked on 3,500 to 3,600 doors.
Blubaugh said he’s looking forward to the runoff.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity to go forward to the general election,” he said. He added his top priority is to bring jobs and industry to the city and he plans to spend the next 30 days knocking on as many doors as he can.
Both Blubaugh and Blick predicted a clean campaign going forward.
The District 4 race was the most hard fought of the election, pitting four candidates against each other for the seat vacated when Michael O’Donnell left office after winning a seat in the state Senate in November.
The campaign got heated when Blick filed an ethics complaint against Gabel accusing him of violating election law by packaging a coupon for his restaurant, Mike’s Steak House, with his campaign materials.
Gabel, president of the local tea party group Kansans for Liberty, did not admit to any wrongdoing but did agree to stop handing out the coupons for a discount chicken-fried steak meal.
Over the past weekend, Glover accused Gabel of retaliating against Blick by distributing a flier, ostensibly from Glover, attacking Blick.
“He was attacking Josh using my likeness,” Glover said. “It’s like he pretended to be me.”
On his campaign Facebook page, Glover wrote to his supporters: “Somehow Mr. Gabel thinks such sleezy tactics will allow him to win. ... that’s the way he campaigns, he thinks I’m the weak link and wants to take out Josh because the paper endorsed him and it’s some sort of payback because Josh filed an ethics complaint over the coupons on his (campaign) lit thing.”
Gabel denied responsibility for the attack fliers, although he conceded that they may have been handed out by some of the same people who distributed his campaign literature.
He said the people who handed out his materials were volunteers and he was just grateful they distributed his materials.
“If they do something else, that’s their business,” he said.
Gabel said he wasn’t disappointed by the outcome because he won’t have to divert time from his family and business interests to do council work.
“I win no matter what,” he said. “The city lost today. Not me.”
Blubaugh largely avoided controversy in the election.
He and his brother Jamey, who jointly run the Blues Brothers real estate firm with another brother, Jason, both ran unsuccessfully for seats in the Legislature last year.
The other two districts up for election featured incumbents against less prominent challengers.
Clendenin had to face a re-election vote in District 3 only two years after taking office.
He got on the council in 2011 by winning in a special election to fill the unexpired term of Jim Skelton, who left the City Council when he was elected to the Sedgwick County Commission.
Clendenin was challenged by Coen, a frequent critic of the council who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2011, and Dean, who has been active in the controversy over police shootings.
In District 6, incumbent Miller was challenged by Mork, an anti-tax candidate endorsed by the conservative group Kansas Republican Assembly, and Stephenson, also a critic of police shootings and a member of the activist group Occupy Wichita.
Mork ran for mayor in 2003 and 2011 and for U.S. Congress in 2004 and 2006. Tuesday was the first time he’s advanced from a primary to the general election.