Update 9:52 p.m.: In victory speech, Whipple vows to return government to the people

Update 9:52 p.m. Speaking to supporters at his election night party, Brandon Whipple claimed victory in the Wichita mayoral race.

“This is for those of you who showed up at the darkest moments of this campaign,” Whipple said to a gaggle of supporters as the results flashed up on the TV screen at Headshots Bar & Grill. “If it wasn’t for you, we would not have had this victory,”

About 100 people turned out for the watch party, including high-profile Democrats James Thompson and Wichita City Council Member Brandon Johnson.

Whipple was the underdog. He raised less money. He spent less money. He put up some of his own money for his campaign.

He started the night a little stressed, he said.

But with each return announced, the mood of the room lifted.

“I didn’t believe (I could win) when I first got into this,” Whipple said.

He said he hopped into the race because he wanted Wichitans to have “a real choice.”

Now, Wichita has to come together to “return the government to the people,” Whipple said.

Update 9:29 p.m. Mayor Jeff Longwell has conceded the election to Brandon Whipple.

In his concession speech, he said “We still feel very proud of where Wichita is at today . . . I still feel good about what we accomplished.”

He cited momentum for downtown, quality of life improvements and the $75 million Triple-A baseball stadium among the accomplishments he is proud of.

“It’s been a tough campaign as you all know, and unfortunately we came out on the losing end of this,” he said.

After 25 years in public office, including school board, City Council and the mayoralty, Longwell said this was his last campaign.

“This is our last election,” he said. “So this also comes with relief . . . Tomorrow we’ll wake up being just fine.”

Update 9:18 p.m. All precincts are in and Brandon Whipple has been elected as the next mayor of Wichita, according to final unofficial results.

Whipple drew 46 percent of the vote to 36 percent for incumbent Jeff Longwell.

Slightly less than 18 percent of the voters wrote in a candidate for mayor, presumably mostly Lyndy Wells who ran a robust write-in campaign.

Whipple pulled out to a wide lead in advance and mail ballots early in the evening. Longwell nibbled away at the lead throughout election night, but came up short at the end.

The unofficial results were 22,256 votes for Whipple, 17,516 for Longwell, 8,516 write ins.

Turnout was 19.6 percent, nearly double the turnout for the August primary. Results are not official until Nov. 15.

Update 8:38 p.m. Tammi Whipple, Brandon Whipple’s mother, came down from Rochester, N.H., to be at her son’s election night party at Headshots Bar and Grill where about 100 friends and supporters had gathered.

“It’s been tough,” she said of the smear campaign against her son. “But he’s tough. He’s tougher than I am.”

She said she was most proud that he was able to stay above the fray.

“As a mother, it kills me to see the nasty side,” she said. “I know Brandon, and he would never say anything like what was in that video. Not ever — and I knew him as a teenager.”

But she knew he could handle it, she said.

Tammi Whipple said people have been telling Brandon he couldn’t do things his entire life. But he has always proved them wrong, she said.

“He was born premature,” she said, which led to learning difficulties.

“Now he has a doctorate. He has a great wife, beautiful kids, and he’s so intelligent, and I’m so proud of him,” she said.

Update: 8:35 p.m. At almost the halfway point with 73 of 158 precincts reporting, Brandon Whipple still holds a substantial lead but the gap is narrowing with Mayor Jeff Longwell.

A trend is emerging of Longwell picking up a few percentage points with each new release of vote counts.

The race now stands at Whipple 47 percent, Longwell 35 percent. Write-in ballots, presumably mostly for Lyndy Wells, are at 17 percent.

Update 8:25 p.m. Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell is at Jeff Longwell’s election night party at Wave, shaking hands with former Wichita State basketball star Lynbert “Cheese” Johnson:

O’Donnell: “I thought you’d be at the (WSU) game tonight.”

Johnson: “Nah, nah, nah... This is the real game right here.

Update 8:20 p.m. with about one-fourth of precincts counted, Mayor Jeff Longwell was closing the gap between him and challenger Brandon Whipple.

The tally stood at Whipple, 49 percent, Longwell 34 percent with write-ins holding at 16 percent.

Update 8:09 p.m. With a few of Tuesday’s votes counted, Brandon Whipple appeared to be holding his early lead on incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell, although the gap was narrowing slightly.

With 39 of 158 precincts counted, Whipple was at 49.2 percent to Longwell’s 33.99 percent, with write-ins holding at roughly 16.8 percent.

“We’re excited and humbled with the early results, but we’ve got a long night ahead of us,” Whipple said at his campaign party at Headshots Bar and Grill. “I’m sure that gap is going to close throughout the night, but that’s not a bad way to start out.”

Update 7:34 p.m. State Rep. Brandon Whipple has taken the early lead in the race for Wichita mayor.

With about 13,500 advance votes counted, Whipple is leading incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell by 52 to 30 percent.

Write-in votes stood at about 16 percent.

Banker Lyndy Wells, the third-place candidate in the August primary, has conducted the most robust write-in campaign of three candidates who declared themselves as write-ins. The other two are anti-abortion activist Mark Gietzen and conservative activist Marty Mork.

Original story

7 p.m. : The polls have closed on an election for Wichita mayor dominated by dark-money anonymous attacks and partisan sniping in a purportedly nonpartisan election.

The candidates on the ballot were incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell and state Rep. Brandon Whipple. Three defeated challengers from the August primary, banker Lyndy Wells, anti-abortion activist Mark Gietzen and conservative activist Marty Mork mounted write-in campaigns.

The signature event of the campaign was a false video, produced through an anonymous New Mexico shell company, slamming Whipple with inaccurate allegations of sexual harassment.

The video — released on YouTube and Facebook — featured young actresses posing as Capitol interns and reading from a script of accusations cribbed from a Wichita Eagle/Kansas City Star report about sex harassment complaints at the Statehouse.

However, the allegations in the news story were actually about Republican members of the state Senate, not Whipple, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives.

Eagle reporting into the New Mexico company found it shared a mailing address and registered agent with a company owned by state Rep. Michael Capps, R-Wichita, who is a business partner of City Council member James Clendenin.

One of the actresses told The Eagle that she was paid $50 to appear in the video by Matthew Colborn, a young entrepreneur who had been mentored by Capps through Wichita State University and shares a downtown office with Capps and Clendenin.

After those ties surfaced, the Sedgwick County Republican Party leadership called for Capps to resign his seat in the Legislature.

He didn’t, and instead went on former Rep. John Whitmer’s radio show and claimed that party Chairman Dalton Glasscock knew about and green-lighted the shady video, an allegation Glasscock denies.

The race, nonpartisan by law, was overtly partisan in practice.

The Sedgwick County Republicans funded a mailer calling for Longwell’s re-election and urging voters to “Vote Republican on Nov. 5!”

The state Democratic Party fired back with a mailer calling Longwell “Mayor Kickback.”

The mailer also falsely said the mayor was under investigation for “corruption.” Longwell denied the claim and that Democratic Party officials refused to explain their claims.

While Longwell was investigated by District Attorney Marc Bennett during the campaign, Bennett said the subject of the probe was not corruption, but whether Longwell had properly reported gifts he received from contractors in a city water project.

Newly created anonymous entities also weighed in with several mailers attacking Whipple and Wells.

Although the group’s names were different, they appeared to be linked by a postal permit traced to a Kansas City bulk-mail service.

None of the spending on the video nor the anonymous mailers will ever have to be reported, according to Mark Skoglund, executive director of the state’s Governmental Ethics Commission.

The commission has ruled that outside organizations only have to report their identity and spending if they use words from a short list of key terms such as “vote for” or “elect,” or “vote against” or “defeat.”

The Republican and Democratic party spending will have to be reported, but not until the parties file an annual report in January, two months after the election.

On issues, Whipple centered his campaign on governmental transparency, calling for gift limits for the mayor and council members and the creation of a city commission to investigate and enforce ethics.

He also won the endorsements of the city’s police and fire unions, calling for expansion of both public safety departments.

Longwell called on voters to stay the course and highlighted achievements made during his mayoralty, including the winning of a 2019 All-America City award.

Longwell also touted his playing the pivotal role in attracting a Triple-A minor-league baseball team and the current construction of a new $75 million ball park to replace the 1930s-vintage Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. And, he said, 89 new police officers were added to the force in the past four years.

Longwell raised $73,925 from July 26 through Oct. 24 and, with money previously raised, had $126,817 available for his campaign. He reported spending $101,524.

Whipple raised $61,433 from July 26 through Oct. 24 and had $66,091 available for his campaign. He reported spending $48,646.

Wells, who jumped into the race Oct. 17 with a write-in campaign, reported raising $28,260 and had $56,351 available. He spent $48,973.

Gietzen reported raising $850 and spending $10,994.

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Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.