MERCED — Voters on Tuesday transformed the Merced City Council, electing a mix of leaders with wide-ranging opinions and backgrounds.
Election returns showed Merced County Undersheriff Bill Blake, high school teacher Josh Pedrozo and clean-air advocate Mary-Michal Rawling garnering the most votes and heading for office.
Blake earned the most support with 3,412 votes, Pedrozo received 2,646 votes and Rawling received 2,336 votes.
"It's very gratifying," Blake said. "It feels good coming in No. 1."
Richard Cervantes and Carl Pollard fell short, with 2,249 and 1,896 votes respectively.
The winners could change once the county's elections office finishes counting vote-by-mail ballots turned in late in the day. The office has roughly 400 ballots, though they're from across the county and not all of them will pertain to the council race.
Even if the winners change, Merced will have younger leaders on the council. Pedrozo is 26, Rawling is 29 and Cervantes is 27.
As it now stands, no one on the council is less than 40 years old.
Councilmen Jim Sanders, Joe Cortez and Bill Spriggs are termed out, all serving two four-year terms. The new council members won't take office until the county certifies the results.
Blake said his first priority will be making sure there's a long-term solution to help the city's homeless people. It's a problem that's vexed the council all year and has grown in urgency as winter's chill nears.
"It's been festering so long," Blake said.
After that, he wants to focus on creating more jobs for the community.
Pedrozo said he was confident he'd place high in the polls, probably following Blake, who he suspected would lead.
His campaign slogan — "Communication, collaboration and common sense" — resonated with voters who are ready to move the community forward, Pedrozo speculated.
"I have a lot of energy," he said. "I'm doing this to give back to the community."
Rawling declined to deem herself the victor until every ballot was counted.
"I'm not letting myself get there," she said. "I want to be sure."
Rawling chalked her strong showing to a cadre of friends who spent time going door-to-door, sending e-mails and talking to voters.
"They boldly left their comfort zone," she noted.
Stunning fund-raising turnouts — both in number of people and dollars — kept Rawling forging ahead day after day.
"It reminded me why I did this, and it kept me going," she said.