A small-business owner who railed against Rock Chalk Park two years ago and is railing this year against tax breaks handed out by Lawrence City Hall cruised to an easy victory in Tuesday’s primary election.
“Voters were really upset with how things have been handled the last couple of years,” said Leslie Soden, who finished in the top spot by more than 700 votes. “The public hasn’t liked the city’s budget priorities.”
Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said voter turnout was 13.6 percent for Tuesday’s primary election.
He said that’s a little bit above the average voter turnout for a City Commission/school board primary election. It was well above the last City Commission primary in 2013, when only 8.8 percent of voters turned out on a snowy day.
In total, 8,696 voters cast ballots in this year’s primary, Shew said. Vote counting operations went smoothly. Polls closed at 7 p.m. and votes were counted by about 8:30 p.m.
The two incumbents in the field — Commissioners Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm — were left with work to do ahead of the April 7 general election. Riordan finished in the No. 4 spot and Schumm finished in the No. 6 spot. The top six vote winners move onto the general election, but only the top three winners in the general election will receive a seat on the commission. No candidate in recent memory has moved up from the No. 6 spot in the primary to finish in the top three in the general election.
Soden, who owns a Lawrence pet-sitting business, ran for a spot on the commission two years ago and fell short by less than 100 votes after running a grass-roots campaign that criticized the Rock Chalk Park project and spending decisions at City Hall. In this year’s election, Soden said voters have taken to the theme in even greater numbers.
“I think the results tonight show that we need to stop the developer tax giveaways, we need to stop raising taxes on ordinary people and we need to start doing things like making mental health care in our community more of a priority,” Soden said.
If elected, Soden also would become the first woman to serve on the City Commission since 2009.
In addition to the two incumbents, the other candidates moving on to the general election are Stan Rasmussen, an attorney for the U.S. Army who finished second; Stuart Boley, a retired IRS auditor who finished third; and Matthew Herbert, a Lawrence High teacher who finished fifth.
Rasmussen said he did hear from many voters who said they were interested in change at Lawrence City Hall.
“But I think voters like my experience and my positive message,” said Rasmussen, who has served as a planning commissioner and on other advisory boards for the city. “I’m proud of Lawrence and optimistic about its future. I’m not an angry candidate.”
Boley said he believes voters supported him, in part, because he would bring more than 30 years of financial experience as an auditor to the commission.
“I’m a numbers guy,” Boley said. “It is a skill set that I think would be useful on the commission. I think it is a skill set that differentiates me from the other 13 candidates.
Riordan, who is a longtime Lawrence physician, said he did pick up on an anti-incumbent vibe while on the campaign trail. He said he’s working to remind voters that he has not been on the commission for all of the last four years. Riordan will be completing his first two-year term in April.
Herbert said he thinks the anti-incumbent theme will continue to play a role in the general election. The field was narrowed from 14 candidates to six candidates. None of the eight candidates who failed to advance were incumbents. Herbert said he thinks the remaining nonincumbents in the field will compete hard to pick up those votes that are now up for grabs.
Schumm, who is a retired downtown restaurant owner, did not attend the vote counting at the Douglas County Courthouse on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, a downtown building that he owns — which houses Bigg's on Mass — caught fire. Schumm’s personal office also was in the building. He was on the scene of the fire most of election day.
Candidates now will turn their attention to the April 7 election, where the top three vote winners will receive a seat on the five-member City Commission. Candidates will participate in a forum sponsored by the Voter Education Coalition and the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce at 8:45 a.m. Saturday at Maceli’s, 1031 New Hampshire St.
|Gregory C. Robinson||788|
|Gary W. Williams||308|
|Justin R. Priest||241|
|Precincts reporting||64 of 64|