After five months of speculation, three months of campaigning and two elections, the city of Soldotna still does not have a new mayor.
The vote in Tuesday's runoff election has city council member David Carey ahead of former mayor A. Kearlee Wright by a 14-vote margin, 163 to 149. The sticking point are 47 absentee ballots that still need to be counted. But that won't be done until Monday afternoon, according to City Clerk Pat Burdick.
"The last time I had a 14-vote lead, he picked up four on me," Carey said Tuesday night. "I see no reason he will go 2-to-1 on me. I don't see a problem."
Wright would have a one-vote, 180-179, victory if he receives 31 of the 47 absentee votes.
"Well, I don't know what to say," Wright said during a stopover in Anchorage on his way to Salt Lake City, Utah. "I guess a few more people voted than the other election, and I think that's a plus."
"I would say the number of absentee ballots is high. There's more interest than the first time around," Burdick said.
Carey is a teacher at Skyview High School, where he is also an assistant wrestling coach. He has served on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and was elected to the Soldotna City Council in 1999.
Wright is the owner of the King Salmon Motel and Restaurant. He served briefly as mayor of Soldotna in 1965-66, but resigned for what he described as health reasons. He said he decided to run again in an effort to make up for that shortened term. He later served on the council for three terms.
Carey and Wright wound up in Tuesday's runoff election after being the top two vote-getters in the Feb. 27 special election. Carey received 105 votes to Wright's 95. A successful candidate must receive 40 percent of the vote to win. Carey had 37 percent to Wright's 34. Also in that election were former council member Kristin Lambert, John Smallwood and Michael Beals. Only 10 percent of Soldotna's 2,830 registered voters went to the polls in February, for a turnout of 289. Thirteen percent turned out Tuesday.
Soldotna needed a new mayor after now-Rep. Ken Lancaster was elected to the state House of Representatives in November. He stepped down in January, and since then, Vice Mayor Jim Stogsdill has guided the city.
Tuesday's runoff election will be certified at the council's April 4 meeting and the winning candidate can be sworn in as early as April 9, but City Clerk Pat Burdick said most new mayors wait until the next meeting to take office, which would be April 11.
Once seated, Soldotna's new mayor will serve until October 2002, the date Lancaster's term would have ended.
If Carey holds on to his lead, the city council will appoint someone to fill his council seat until the October elections.
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