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The Republican boys club 

So it's Lionel Rivera, a surprisingly easy winner over his three erstwhile colleagues. How did he win? Or, to put it slightly differently, how did Sallie Clark, Ted Eastburn and Jim Null lose?

Rivera himself explained it on Tuesday: Mindful of the new realities created by the mail-in ballot, he began campaigning in earnest several weeks earlier than his opponents. Believing that he'd have to run strongly in the northeast to win, he concentrated his efforts there. He had important supporters up north, including Focus on the Family honcho Tom Minnery and County Commissioner Wayne Williams.

And finally, Rivera cited polls that showed Springs citizens opposed Council's decision to offer domestic partner benefits to city employees by a 4 to 1 margin. It was obvious that his opposition to such benefits pleased conservative voters.

Lionel won because, alone among the four major candidates, he sought a plurality, not a majority. His conservative message, coupled with support from much of the Republican right, resonated well with the folks that he'd targeted. It didn't hurt that he was consistently impressive at candidate forums and in televised debates, coming across as competent and experienced.

In retrospect, it seems clear that a single Council decision doomed the candidacies of Eastburn, Clark and Null. No, it wasn't the domestic partner benefits, but the mail-in ballot, which radically increased voter participation. More than half of the mail-in ballots were returned (72,000 out of 141,000).

Historically, voters in the older, more stable neighborhoods of the city core have dominated city elections. By contrast, turnout in the east and northeast parts of the city has been low, perhaps because residents are more transient and less likely to pay attention to the oddly scheduled April municipal elections.

But send these responsible conservative folks a ballot, and they'll fill it out and mail it in.

In the Council races, Tom Gallagher was the biggest surprise, leading all at-large candidates by a wide margin. The others -- Richard Skorman, Randy Purvis and Larry Small -- had been widely expected to win, if only because they were familiar names on a crowded ballot.

In District 1, Scott Hente fought off a strong challenge from Tim Oliver, while Jerry Heimlicher in District 3 easily prevailed over several rivals.

So how should we characterize our new Council? As a Republican boy's club, I guess. Holdover Margaret Radford is the lone female, and Richard Skorman is the only self-identified progressive. It looks a lot like the Councils of the Bob Isaac era -- middle-aged, male and business-friendly.

My guess is that Rivera, whose rightward tilt won him the election, might move to the moderate center as mayor. Lionel's no fool; he knows that he won with less than a third of the vote. But he's still a conservative, as is the Council majority; look for the boys to toss out same-sex benefits and re-open the debate about extending Constitution Avenue to Interstate 25.

So has the city returned to its conservative roots after a brief flirtation with liberalism? Yes, if you look at the new Council. No, if you examine the returns. TOPS passed with 68 percent of the vote, just about exactly what Lionel's three principal opponents got. Richard Skorman ran strongly, trailing only Gallagher in the At-large vote. In District 3, Linda Rinehart and Lauren Arnest split the progressive vote. Business interests recruited and supported capable newcomers such as Hente and Heimlicher, not to mention reliable old warhorses like Larry Small and Randy Purvis.

Some election eve snapshots: A crowded Ted Eastburn party at The Warehouse, including most of the city's power brokers (Bill Hybl, Mary Ellen McNally, Bud and Kaydeen Patterson, Mike Bird, to name a few).

A stunned, silent crowd at the Red Lion, as Sallie Clark's supporters saw the initial returns come in. City Manager Lorne Kramer, assistant manager Dave Nickerson and your columnist, meanwhile, hightailed it to the Ritz to pay homage to the new mayor.

There we found a bizarre little cabal of the ultra-right, including Rivera's largest campaign contributor, copy machine store owner Ed Bircham and his sidekicks Mike McKee and radio talk show gadfly "Ron."

McKee, who spends his time alternately screaming about the evils of homosexuality and harassing the Independent, said the Lord told him Lionel would win. He also says that the Lord told him that the Indy's going out of business.

But not to worry -- just as quickly, Bircham stepped in, inquiring the cost of a full-page advertisement -- apparently he wants to do some public gloating now that his new mayor is the chosen one.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com

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