Businessman Jeff Blubaugh appeared to claim a narrow victory Tuesday night in a hotly contested race for the District 4 seat on the Wichita City Council.
Blubaugh had 50 percent of the vote to opponent Joshua Blick’s 48 percent – a separation of 40 votes in the district in southwest Wichita.
Blick declined to concede and would not rule out a recount. He staked his hope on provisional ballots to be counted April 11. It was unclear how many provisional ballots were cast in the district; about 130 were cast countywide, election officials said.
Blubaugh said he believes he’s won the election and that provisional ballots rarely stray from the voting margin.
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“I think it says pretty clearly that the voters of District 4 were divided,” said Blubaugh, a real estate broker.
He extended an olive branch immediately to Blick, a community volunteer, saying the two should and can work together to advance key District 4 issues at City Hall.
“I know that Josh has a detailed understanding of key issues in the district, of issues in his neighborhood, so I want to immediately extend my hand to him in the hope we can work together to move our district forward,” Blubaugh said.
Blick acknowledged that a permanent District 4 representative should be seated as soon as possible. The seat is now filled temporarily by Paul Gray, a former council member who was reappointed early this year after Michael O’Donnell was elected to the Senate.
“I don’t want to stall this out any more than it needs to be. The people of District 4 need a council member. But every vote counts,” Blick said.
Blick, who had an 11-point primary win over Blubaugh in February, had joined his supporters at the Country Cafe in south Wichita to await the final tally. Several business leaders attended the party, including developers Dave Wells and Dave Burk. City Council member Pete Meitzner also attended.
Blubaugh joined family at his south Wichita home to watch the results.
For Blick and Blubaugh, Tuesday’s vote represents the end of a primary and general election campaign marked by acrimony – first directed together at primary challenger and Wichita businessman Craig Gabel, who finished third, then against each other as the campaign wrapped up.
The campaign ended with Blick’s home and cars being vandalized and with Blick alleging that Gabel and Gabel’s employees were stalking him. Blick obtained a temporary protection from stalking order against Gabel in Sedgwick County District Court after those incidents.
In other council races, incumbent Vice Mayor Janet Miller and District 1 council member Lavonta Williams scored landslide wins over their opponents.
Miller polled 76 percent of the vote to defeat challenger Marty Mork in District 6 in west-central Wichita. Williams tallied 71 percent of the vote to easily defeat challenger Dave Thomas in east-central Wichita.
Incumbent District 3 council member James Clendenin won his first full term in a closer race, defeating challenger Clinton Coen 52 percent to 46 percent in southeast Wichita.
Miller said she plans to return to work on key issues like economic growth, transit, keeping taxes down and maintaining critical city services.
“I’m honored and privileged to get another chance to represent the people of the 6th District,” Miller said.
Miller also has targeted blight around the city, joining forces with Williams to begin work on a community coalition to help keep low-income Wichitans in their homes through building rehabilitation.
Clendenin’s bid for his first full term representing District 3 became a referendum on his driving record as supporters of opponent Clinton Coen raised a large collection of speeding tickets as a campaign issue. He won a partial term in 2011 after Jim Skelton moved to the Sedgwick County Commission.
Like Miller, Clendenin chose Tuesday to focus on the future of his district and the city.
“In two years, it’s tough to accomplish too many of your initiatives,” Clendenin said. “I look forward to building the partnerships I’ve made over the next four years and building on the relationships I’ve made with the neighborhood associations.”
Williams could not be reached for comment Tuesday night. She has said she wants to continue to focus on enhancing city growth. She also advocates seeking community ideas to craft a solution to the city’s water shortage.