In a showdown of incumbents versus rookies for the two slots in the Kenai City Council election, the new blood appeared to be winning.
With three of four precincts counted by 11 p.m. Terry Bookey, a 36-year-old firefighter for CES in Soldotna, was on his way to his first term on council with 30 percent of the vote. The other newcomer, Brian Gabriel Sr., was the second-highest vote getter with nearly 28 percent, edging out incumbent Hal Smalley who carried 26 percent. Coming in fourth was incumbent Barry Eldridge, about 15 percent of the vote.
Gabriel said the race was currently too close to call between him and Smalley for the seat. He said he is going to play it cool until the absentee votes are counted this week.
"I'm till trying to figure out what component the absentee ballot has on the overall election," he said. "I'm sure I'll have a few and Hal will have a few."
"Without knowing I don't want to jump the gun," Gabriel added.
Smalley was not available for comment Tuesday night.
Bookey was not afraid to be confident with the results of the race, however. With a solid percentage of the votes, he said it was looking promising for him to be a new council member.
"I feel good about the position that I'm in right now," Bookey said. "I am awestruck. It's something that I've wanted to do for many, many years. I'm flattered that the voters have given me the opportunity to reach that goal."
Having been voted out of office, Eldridge said he does not know what he will do next.
"I'll discuss it with my wife. I expect I'll continue to be involved on some of the commissions beyond council," he said. "I love the city and love to be involved in what's taking place."
Eldridge, who has served on the council for the past four years, said this will be his last foray into politics though.
"If I go down in flames this time then I'll hang it up and say that's my political career," he said.
When asked what advice Eldridge would pass on to new council members (Bookey and Gabriel), he said: "I would say just get involved, stay involved, know what the issues are and determine what will be best for the entire city."
Bookey was favored at Kenai's precinct No. 2 polling station, the Challenger Learning Center, with voters saying they were impressed with his character and campaign when coming to vote during the after-work rush.
"We know Terry Bookey and he just seems like a good, honest man," said Tanya Erwin, a 39-year-old teacher who had her two young children in tow.
Another voter punched the ballot for Bookey because she trusted he would have public servants' best interest at heart.
"Because he's a firefighter and I believe he will protect the public servants," said Lysa Diorec, a 41-year-old office manager.
Gabriel was also a contender at the polling place.
Jan Lasley, a 60-year-old secretary, voted for Gabriel because he's very "community minded," she said.
The election results will be certified and the winning candidates sworn in at Kenai City Council's Oct. 20 meeting.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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