City Council member Jeff Longwell won the Wichita mayor’s race in convincing fashion on Tuesday night.
He collected nearly 60 percent of the vote to retired advertising executive Sam Williams’ 35 percent in unofficial results. Write-in candidates had 4 percent.
It was a hard-fought race, with charges, countercharges and fundraising in excess of $330,000. Voters among the 16 percent who turned out to vote cited negative advertising as a concern.
“We just want to say, simply, now we have to heal this community,” Longwell told supporters while standing under a blue, white, black and yellow balloon arch in the Monarch bar in Delano. “We’re going to need all of your help, but you helped us get to the first step and that was getting ‘Alongwell.’ ”
After the speech, supporters burst into chants of “Jeff! Jeff! Jeff!”
Longwell, who served eight years on the City Council and 12 on the Maize school board, will replace Mayor Carl Brewer, who was limited to two terms.
The work for the new mayor, who will be sworn in during the City Council meeting next Tuesday, is just beginning.
Longwell said his first priority is to help the city’s struggling transit system.
Funding for that – and a new water source, streets and a jobs fund – would have been included in the proposed 1-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax last fall, which voters soundly defeated.
“We’ve got to get on that Day 1,” Longwell said. “We certainly want to take some of the ideas our transit director has to make our transit system more robust, and then we’re going to talk to our community very quickly about how we pay for that.”
Longwell, who owns Ad Astra Print Resources, said it’s time for the community to change the way it develops jobs. He said he plans to be part of the conversation with businesses in the coming weeks as they participate in the Blueprint for Regional Economic Development meetings in an effort to diversify the economy beyond aviation.
Wichita has a net loss of about 20,000 jobs in the past several years, mostly in the aviation sector.
Williams retired from Sullivan, Higdon & Sink – the state’s largest advertising firm – last year specifically to run for mayor.
In a brief concession speech, he said it was tough as a first-time politician to beat a man who had been in politics for 20 years.
“I had no idea what politics was like when I got into it, and to be honest, I’m not too crazy about what it’s like,” he said.
“I think we can take credit for molding the conversation of this campaign. Before we started, no one was talking about job creation, no one was talking about the true role of government – to create infrastructure. No one was talking about transparency in government.”
Williams poured $85,000 of his own money into his campaign.
Overall, the two candidates raised more than $330,000, including Williams’ money, according to reports filed with the Sedgwick County Election Office.
Williams raised slightly more than $130,000 from contributors.
Longwell raised just over $110,000 in contributions, according to finance reports.
In recent weeks, the mayoral campaign had taken an ugly turn with negative ads from the Williams campaign. The Eagle found the campaign’s claims against Longwell were misleading.
Movie theater magnate Bill Warren also released a series of ads against Williams. Warren has supported Longwell in previous campaigns but did not donate to his campaign in this race, according to campaign finance reports.
Warren’s ads said that Williams told him and other businessmen last fall that he supported the failed 1-cent sales tax. Williams has said he voted against it.
Warren attended Longwell’s watch party but would not talk about the campaign, saying the night was about Longwell.
During his victory speech, Longwell told the crowd that he loved that they “ran a clean race.” He said his wife, Susie, was their best campaigner.
“Two separate Saturdays, my wife went out and pulled Jeff Longwell signs because they were illegal. That’s how important it was to her that we run a clean race.”
Susie Longwell said it was true, that they’d had some “overenthusiastic helpers” who had put Longwell signs next to others that were placed illegally, and she had gone out to remove them.
To her, winning was surreal, she said.
Voter turnout was just over 16 percent, up from 12 percent four years ago when Mayor Carl Brewer faced little opposition for a second term. But it was just half the 32 percent of voters who participated the last time the mayor’s seat was open, in 2003.
Voters voiced concern about negative campaigning.
“Nobody likes negative campaign ads,” said Mark Smith, who voted for Longwell. “They’ve put a lot of money into this race. I couldn’t tell you how many postcards and fliers I’ve gotten from both sides.”
Dawn Chisholm echoed that. “It had to do with the advertising and negativity more than anything.”
Said Ervin Vogel, who also chose Longwell: “I figured he was the most honest and experienced, and that’s what we need.”
Several council members attended Longwell’s party, including Lavonta Williams, who finished third in a 10-candidate mayoral primary; James Clendenin; Janet Miller; and Jeff Blubaugh, who won his own re-election bid.
Clendenin said he was pleased so many of the same council members will remain. The only new council member will be Bryan Frye, who won Longwell’s old seat.
“There won’t be as much of a transition period. We’ll see a very cohesive unit of people working together for the city.”
Tony Rosales, one of the mayoral candidates in the primary, also was at the party. He said he decided to support Longwell because Longwell took the time to meet with him and discuss the issues.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what he does in the next four years,” he said.
Contributing: Roy Wenzl of The Eagle