"How do you find out the results? Do they call the candidates? Do they text us?"
Lisa Czelatdko's questions on election night revealed her political inexperience. But the results themselves suggested that just enough voters in City Council District 3 didn't care about that.
When the ballot-counting halted around 10 p.m., Czelatdko held a 154-vote lead over Michael Merrifield. The final totals Wednesday gave her the victory with 10,140 votes to Merrifield's 9,802, a difference of 338 votes or 50.85 percent to 49.15 percent lead.
As the longtime Democratic state representative for House District 18, which shares a lot of geography with Council District 3, Merrifield appeared early on to have an inside track to the seat. But at Springs Orleans on Tuesday night, as it became clear he was trailing to his lesser-known conservative opponent, he said the results spoke to an unflagging partisan divide.
"It shows that 50 percent of the district prefers party over performance," he said.
Plus, he added, roughly 5,000 Democrats in his district weren't on the list to get a ballot because they hadn't voted in the November 2010 election. He said that his team worked to alert these voters that they were no longer activated, but that he still saw that as the difference.
County Commissioner Sallie Clark would disagree. The political veteran who called herself a strong supporter, mentor and cheerleader — "all of the above" — for Czelatdko, said the new candidate "worked her tail off." Through the campaign, Czelatdko said she'd been preparing for two years, learning her district, serving on community boards and panels, going door-to-door, "getting educated."
"She was everywhere," Clark said. "She used social media effectively. She tried to go to where the people were, instead of making them come to her."
Clark said Tuesday night that she believes with a new Council, the county and city could work more closely than in the recent past. She said that she wants to see regular meetings, to discuss ways to collaborate.
Czelatdko envisions the same: "I want to go in and change public perception of how we work together."
The sentiment was further echoed by another Council newcomer, Angela Dougan, who ran away with the District 2 seat vacated by new County Commissioner Darryl Glenn. "I am so humbled and honored," said Dougan, who had worked in Glenn's campaigns. "I've been working hard for District 2, and I will continue to work hard."
Her camp, which included Glenn himself, was celebrating at Colorado Mountain Brewery on the north end. But with her race all but decided by 7:30, it couldn't match the enthusiasm that coursed through Czelatdko and Co. back downtown.
Gathered with supporters, friends and family around large tables of sushi at Fujiyama, Czelatdko first said she wasn't feeling too nervous. But as it became clear that her small mid-tally lead over Merrifield was holding steady, she exclaimed, "New beginning! New beginning! A bright future for Colorado Springs!"
Said Clark: "Lisa's opponent was critical of her for being a novice. But you have to start somewhere."