ELYRIA â€“ Elyria Mayor Bill Grace had the luxury of name recognition as an eight-year incumbent, not to mention being an Elyria native, a former councilman and a Democrat in a largely Democratic city.
But on Tuesday night, a first-time political candidate running without party support came within a few hundred votes â€“ roughly a 5 percent difference â€“ of knocking Grace out of the race.
Unofficial election results show that Grace beat businessman Tim Quinn, an independent who has lived in the city for about a decade, by 4,292 to 3,869 or 50.8 percent to 45.8 percent. The results for write-in Republican candidate Ray Noble will not be available until Wednesday.
Grace said the unofficial results were largely an indication of the region`s economy.
"The economy is taking its toll on a lot of mayors," Grace said. "People are looking to place blame, and the mayor is an easy target. I certainly feel victim to Northeast Ohio`s economy, and the effect it had on this race."
Still, Grace conceded that a fair number of Elyria voters are unhappy with the current administration, and he congratulated Quinn on a strong bid for the top city seat. Quinn came closer to defeating Grace than school board member Holly Brinda, who fell 7 percentage points short of victory in the May Democratic primary.
"The obvious message has been sent that people would like to see more improvements taking place in the city," Grace said. "We`re working hard to make sure that will happen, and now we`ll be doubling our efforts."
For his part, Quinn said the results aren`t even final yet â€“ provisional and absentee ballots have yet to be counted â€“ but he still congratulated Grace on is win.
"I`m more disappointed that out of 56,000 people in this town, there were maybe 38,000 â€“ after you count the kids who can`t vote â€“ that didn`t show up to vote," Quinn said. "That disappoints me the most."
Noble said early on that he knew it would be tough for a write-in Republican to make a dent in this year`s Elyria mayoral race â€“ he focused largely on word-of-mouth and grassroots campaigning â€“ but he also said it was a pleasure to be involved in the election.
Quinn ran a highly visible advertising campaign the past few months, plastering billboards, cramming the radio airwaves and generally hitting the pavement to meet voters. On Tuesday, he and his three sons were out at 6:30 a.m. holding "Quinn" signs as they stood on the corner of state Route 57 and Cleveland Street.
Grace`s campaign manager, Phil Tollett, said he and Grace ran a subtle campaign.
"We bank more on integrity and dedication to the job than we do on campaign contributions and billboards," Tollett said. "We let the mayor`s job speak for itself."
Throughout Tuesday night, Grace and fellow Democrats were gathered at Knights of Columbus near East Broad Street, while Quinn and a large group of friends were gathered at Quinnâ€˜s son`s Cleveland Street bar, Mighty Quinn`s, tallying the final results on a small chalkboard.
One line on the chalkboard said "Grace" and projected Grace`s totals, while the other line said "Citizens," which projected Quinn`s totals.
Grace supporter Jim Frank, 85, said he voted for Grace because "I know him and I like him," while voter Cathy Miller said the same: "I like him."
Quinn supporters were slightly more vocal.
"Grace is all into prettying up the community, but not at all into taking care of the crime issues," said Debra Harris, 50, who voted for Quinn. "I want a change."
Joyce Pleines, a 4th Ward resident, said the same thing â€“ she voted for Quinn and independent Mark Craig, who won in the 4th Ward.
"We need some changes in this city," Pleines said. ""We`re just not getting stuff done around here."
The relatively narrow gap between Grace and Quinn raises a number of questions â€“ including whether Noble`s write-in campaign siphoned votes from Quinn. But there also is the possibility that Republican voters cast their ballots for Quinn because they didn`t know how â€“ or didn`t want to take the time â€“ to write in Noble`s name.
That three-way vote split played out on a smaller scale in the 7th Ward, where incumbent Democrat Kenneth Burkhard took home 48 percent of the vote while Republican Clyde O`Neal and independent Ed Sinegar split the remaining votes cast.
Regardless, the politicos say the results of the mayor`s race should be a wakeup call for Grace.
Councilman Garry Gibbs said it shows that voters are tired of being run "rough-shod" by the current administration, while newcomer Craig said it`s a clear message that voters want the city to take a new direction.
Democrat Kevin Brubaker, who won an open at-large seat, said he was shocked by the results of the mayor`s race â€“ "it was much closer than anybody thought it would be" â€“ but he said he didn`t know why given that he thinks Grace is doing a good job given the city`s financial situation.
Contact Shawn Foucher at 653-6255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.