ELYRIA — Former Mayor Bill Grace’s hopes of returning to Elyria city government ended Tuesday night with a loss to a newcomer.
But for incumbent City Council members Mike Lotko, Tom Callahan and Vic Stewart, securing wins in the five-way at-large Democrat primary race seemed easy.
All three topped more than 1,300 votes. Yet, it was the fourth winner who, along with the three incumbents, will advance to November’s general election that was not easy to call early on.
Grace and Chuck Martin, a political newcomer with a strong business background as a materials manager at Ridge Tool Co., stayed within 100 votes of each other as the ballots were counted.
But in the end, Martin handily won over Grace.
According to unofficial results, Lotko was the top vote getter with 1,411 votes, or 22.7 percent; Stewart followed with 1,384 votes, or 22.3 percent; Callahan got 1,356 votes, or 21.8 percent; Martin came in with 1,069 votes, or 17.2 percent to Grace’s 999 votes, or 16 percent.
As a former three-term mayor and three-term Council member, Grace easily had more name recognition than any of the candidates, but that name recognition alone wasn’t enough to win.
“The voters have spoken in regard to the former mayor, which is very surprising to me because I thought he would have had enough votes to get him through the primary,” Stewart said. “I respect Bill. He’s been to the highest office in the city and is really passionate about seeing Elyria move forward. But I think voters are looking for change.”
Grace conceded after 93 percent of the votes were counted, not waiting until all of the votes were tallied.
Reflecting on why he chose to run for a Council seat just two years after losing a mayoral primary race to Mayor Holly Brinda, he said it all stems from his love of Elyria.
“And I’m the eternal optimist in not only this community, but also in my role in helping it prosper,” he said. “I just love this city, am very invested in it and even if it’s not elected office, I want to do what I can to better Elyria.”
Grace stopped short of saying the loss was evidence he had lost his political pull.
“Who knows? I don’t know. It certainly does end things for the time being,” he said.
Grace did question the low turnout of the election — less than 10 percent of register voters cast ballots — but did not place his loss solely on the scant turnout.
“Bottom line, this was a key election I did not do well in,” he said.
Martin was nearly at a loss for words when reached well into the evening.
“This is really exciting,” he said. “I thank all the citizens for giving me this vote of confidence.”
As a newcomer, Martin said he knew he would have to work hard even though his supporters included people like former Mayor Mike Keys.
“I knew I had to get outside my comfort level, introduce myself to people and tell them what I want for the city,” he said. “I offer a fresh perspective and want to work with the administration because the best days of Elyria are not behind us.”
The four Democrats — Lotko, Stewart, Callahan and Martin, will face just one Republican in November — incumbent Jack Baird. The five candidates will run for four seats.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.