Mayor Carl Brewer easily retained his seat in Tuesday’s election. And Wichita voters picked three City Council members who are likely to advance his vision for revitalizing downtown and maintaining the economic development incentives that dominated campaign rhetoric.
Brewer, 54, said the election sends a strong message that voters want him to pursue his vision for the city and that those who consistently oppose his decisions are wrong and should re-evaluate their views.
“We’re on the right path,” he told about 100 supporters at a hotel downtown. “We know who we are and we know what we’re going to do.”
But if voters were sending a message, it was in whispers. Only 12.7 percent of registered voters participated.
Darrell Leffew, 52, who finished with 30 percent of the vote to Brewer’s 69 percent, said he hopes more people will get engaged in local government.
“I do hope the next City Council listens to citizens better,” he said.
Among council candidates, only one who ran opposing the types of special incentives that Brewer has supported won.
Michael O’Donnell claimed victory with 51æpercent of the vote in a tight race with Joshua Blick in southwest Wichita’s District 4.
Brewer had endorsed Blick and the other three winning candidates: Pete Meitzner, who beat Charlie Stevens in eastern District 2; James Clendenin, who beat Mark Gietzen in southeast District 3; and incumbent Jeff Longwell, who won over challenger Lynda Tyler in northwest District 5.
O’Donnell, 26, said he doesn’t think a sitting mayor should have intervened.
“What it shows is cronyism, like he’s saying these are the guys I want on my City Council,” he said.
“I feel like we need to have a vibrant downtown, but that can’t be the only focus,” O’Donnell said. “I’m tired of southwest Wichita being overlooked and underdeveloped.”
Many expected a tight race in east Wichita’s District 2 after Stevens won and Meitzner edged out Steve Harris by eight votes in the primary.
Stevens, 41, brought name recognition, significant campaign cash and a powerful voice against the status quo.
But Harris threw his support behind Meitzner, and Meitzner gained support from several key businesspeople whose campaign money gave him a slight edge in advertising.
About 60 supporters joined him at Rock Island Studios in Old Town where rock music set the stage for a victory party.
He said voters voiced concern about jobs and, at the same time, Wichita had some key victories with the tanker contract and reports from the Census that show Wichita is growing.
Meitzner, 55, said he thinks his optimism resonated.
“I’m a hope kind of guy and there’s a glimmer of hope for us,” he said.
Asked whether he would have done things differently, Stevens said: “No, I don’t think so. We worked hard. I told the people what I thought. Apparently not enough people think we’re overspending.”
Shortly after the polls closed, about 50 Clendenin supporters had gathered at the Scotch and Sirloin on East Kellogg for his watch party. Red, white and blue balloons festooned the tables.
Clendenin, 36, who lost a race for state representative in November in his first run at politics, was confident going into the night after hectic months of door-to-door campaigning.
“The most enjoyable part was meeting people door to door,” he said “My gosh, you get to see the faces of Wichita.”
Longwell, 51, the incumbent in northwest Wichita’s District 5, said he’s happy with the support he got.
“Typically in a low-voter turnout, it’s tougher on incumbents,” he said. “This indicates the public is happy with the direction the city is going.”
The election punctuated months of intense campaigning by candidates for mayor and four City Council seats.
Candidates battled for face-time, yard sign placement and message control.
All the candidates said they would spend taxpayer money responsibly and focus on core city services, such as police, fire and streets.
But divisions arose over when the city should use tax abatements, special tax incentives and cash incentives to help attract, retain or expand certain businesses.
The three conservative candidates who gathered to party at Mike’s Steakhouse — Leffew, Tyler and Gietzen — ended up with little to celebrate as the vote tallies piled up.
Leffew said he was disappointed but not surprised to lose, facing a well-financed incumbent.
He said after emerging from the primary, he learned that “too many people offered (campaign) money with strings attached. I can’t do that. To me it’s better to lose with my ethics and morals intact.”
Tyler, 46, also cited money as a reason she had problems challenging the incumbent.
“I had $8,000, he had $68,000,” she said. “You can only do so much when you have that kind of disparity.”
Gietzen, 56, said of his defeat, “certainly a big factor was the arrest in the middle of the campaign. That was kind of hard to overcome.” He was arrested on a warrant after missing a court date on a traffic violation.
Margaret Cheever, 62, who cast her ballot at Grace Presbyterian Church on Douglas east of Oliver, said she supported Carl Brewer for re-election because he has done a good job.
Specifically, she said his efforts to revitalize downtown appealed to her. She and Gary Cheever, 59, agree that improvements downtown are branching toward their neighborhood at Douglas and Hillside. Her support for Brewer helped her decide to support Pete Meitzner in District 2 in east Wichita.
“He seemed to think alike,” she said.
Most voters interviewed outside the polling place at the Machinists’ Hall in south Wichita appeared ready to stay the course with the mayor.
“Carl Brewer, I think so far, he’s done a good job,” said Sondra Kelley, who works for AgVantis, a farm-credit technology firm. Several other voters gave similar answers.
But a few weren’t quite as pleased with the mayor and cast protest votes for Leffew.
“I’m really disappointed with the city tax incentives being offered to companies that already have plenty of money,” said Cindy Jones, an assistance technician who helps people with disabilities. As examples, she cited Warren Theatres, Cabela’s and the YMCA.
She said she wished the election had had stronger candidates.
“I’m not real thrilled about my choices,” she said. But, she added, “I do believe I have an obligation to vote.”