Thurston claims Merced mayoral race

November 8, 2011 

Merced will have a new mayor, but it isn't clear who will take the seat.

With the race neck-and-neck, the city will have to wait before it can be certain whether former Councilman Stan Thurston will be its next mayor. Thurston was leading Tuesday night in the race with 2,006 votes, or 32 percent.

There was a 168-vote margin between him and Councilman Bill Blake. Also running were Councilwoman Michele Gabriault-Acosta, Ken Riggleman Jr. and Mayor Bill Spriggs.

The county still must count provisional ballots and vote-by-mail ballots that were dropped off at polling places Tuesday, and that number could swing the election, said Karen Adams, county registrar of voters. "There's a possibility it could go either way. It's hard for an official to say," she said late Tuesday.

That's what happened in 2009, when Bill Spriggs held a 24-vote lead over Michele Gabriault-Acosta -- voters had to wait three days to find out who won the election.

Adams said the final tally could be known as early as this afternoon.

Cheers erupted from Thurston's supporters when the latest results came in Tuesday night. Thurston was "elated."

"I want to try and get the council more organized. I think it's pretty clear that everybody believes there was a lack of leadership at the council and I'm determined to provide that," he said.

Earlier in the evening, the mood at American Legion Hall 83, where Thurston was having his election party, was upbeat and positive. About 20 or so supporters showed up to give him support.

"I'm happy to be ahead, even if it's a little," Thurston said after two out of 24 precincts reported that he was ahead by 1,171 votes. "It's better than being second anytime. Don't want to play catch-up."

"We got it," Bill Baker, Thurston's campaign manager, said standing next to him. Baker said he and his wife talked Thurston into running for mayor. "He's the only candidate for the job, he's got what it takes."

Campaign praised

Thurston had a lot of people call him over the past few days, commending him on running a good campaign.

Thurston went to as many events as he could where candidates were invited during the campaign. And he aired four radio ads on five radio stations. His campaign made fliers on which they "put in factual information about the loss of public safety officers, how much the city was spending out of the reserves and ideas for changes for the city," he said.

Candidate Bill Blake said it was a real race between him and Thurston.

"There's nobody else even close to the two of us. We're separated by 1 percentage point," Blake said Tuesday night. "I hope (to see) the additional updates and see more numbers, close the gap and move a little bit ahead."

At the Sun-Star's deadline, Blake had 1,838 votes.

Meanwhile, across town at Big Bubba's Bad-to-the-Bone BBQ, mayoral candidate Michele Gabriault-Acosta said she was "doing good." She was optimistic during the course of the night. About 60 to 70 people showed up to support her run for mayor at the restaurant.

Mary Ward, who was at Bubba's to show her support, said Gabriault-Acosta has shown the logic and common sense to be mayor.

"This hard economic time is not unique to Merced, not a one-word fix. We need a candidate who does the homework and listens to ideas from all the factions," said Ward, a member of city's Planning Commission.

Riggleman, who garnered 245 votes in the mayoral race, also showed up at Gabriault-Acosta's party.

"At least I didn't come in last! The write-ins did," he said, as City Council candidate Carl Pollard sat across from him. "Me and him are just party crashers."

It looked as if the voters wanted change, according to Spriggs.

"We're not doing well," Spriggs said of his campaign on the phone Tuesday night. "I think there will be a little change."

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsunstar.com.

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