Incumbents retain seats; women now have historic majority on Lawrence City Commission

From left, Lisa Larsen, Jennifer Ananda and Matthew Herbert received the most votes in the Lawrence City Commission elect, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. If the final standings hold, Larsen and Ananda would be elected to 4-year terms, while Herbert would be elected to a 2-year term.

Incumbent candidates made a strong showing in the Lawrence City Commission election, and a newcomer’s election means the commission will now have a majority of women for perhaps the first time in history.

Incumbent Lisa Larsen, a retired geologist, finished first in Tuesday’s general election. Larsen was joined in the top three by newcomer Jennifer Ananda and fellow incumbent Matthew Herbert.

Those three will join Mayor Leslie Soden and Vice Mayor Stuart Boley on the five-member commission.

By the numbers

Unofficial results for the Lawrence City Commission election:

Lisa Larsen: 8,405

Jennifer Ananda: 6,875

Matthew Herbert: 6,619

Dustin Stumblingbear: 5,985

Mike Anderson: 5,144

Bassem Chahine: 2,787

Larsen, who was appointed to fill a vacancy on the commission in 2015, had a definitive lead in the primary election. She again received overwhelming support in Tuesday’s general election results, finishing more than 1,530 votes ahead of the second place spot.

“I’m very grateful for it and I’m very humbled by the process that we’ve gone through during the election,” Larsen said. “This is the first time I’ve gone through it and so it’s been quite the experience, a very positive experience as it comes to an end here tonight.”

Lawrence City Commissioner Lisa Larsen, right, visits with Kelly Jones, who was elected to the Lawrence school board, at the Douglas County Courthouse on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Larsen, who was re-elected to the City Commission with 8,405 votes, was the top vote-winner in Tuesday's commission race.

As she watched the election results come in at the Douglas County Courthouse, Larsen said she thinks the results indicate that voters value the experience of the incumbent candidates and that her message and decision-making process resonated.

“I think the results are showing that voters are wanting to keep experience on the commission,” Larsen said. “And that my message of being a balanced decision maker and proven leadership is something that the voters listened to.”

Larsen said she will continue to work just as she has, consulting with residents and making decisions based on what the data and research show.

As the final numbers came in at the Douglas County Courthouse, newcomer Ananda — who jumped to the second place spot from fourth in the primary — needed a minute to process. Though she admitted she was surprised by the results, Ananda said she is also thankful and humbled.

“I didn’t know what to expect walking in here tonight,” Ananda said.

Ananda, an attorney and social worker, currently serves as deputy Title IX coordinator and policy specialist for KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access, which handles complaints of discrimination and harassment at KU. Ananda said she thinks the results show that voters saw her professional experience as an asset, a theme she said holds for all of the candidates elected.

Jennifer Ananda, right, and Mayor Leslie Soden chat on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, at the Douglas County Courthouse as election results come in. Ananda was elected to the Lawrence City Commission Tuesday.

“We have a teacher, a scientist and an attorney and social worker,” Ananda said. “There is something to be said for that. That’s a diverse set of skills coming to the table.”

When Ananda joins the commission, it will also be the first time in at least decades — perhaps the first time ever — that the five-member commission will be majority women. She said she is proud to be part of that.

“I’m incredibly proud of the history that Lawrence has and I think it’s time for this,” Ananda said.

The top two vote-winners, Larsen and Ananda, receive four-year terms. As the third-place finisher, Herbert receives a two-year term.

Herbert, a high school government teacher, said he is thrilled that the community gave him another chance even if he did receive the shorter term.

“Obviously, I wanted to play for first or second, as anyone does, but this is a great batch of candidates,” Herbert said. “I felt incredibly challenged all along the way against these six and so to be considered top three by this community is a true honor, and I’m grateful.”

Herbert also noted that both incumbent candidates remained on the commission, which to him means that the commission continues to have the support of the community, he said.

“Both of us were kept — and kept by a pretty wide margin, which to me tells me this community believes in the direction we’re heading and has given us their blessing to keep going forward with what we’ve done,” Herbert said.

Fourth-place finisher Dustin Stumblingbear, a retired veteran, trailed Herbert by more than 600 votes. Actor and former local talk show host Mike Anderson finished fifth, and Lawrence businessman Bassem Chahine finished sixth.

The new City Commission will take office in January. The changeover will mean the departure of long-time Commissioner Mike Amyx, who did not seek re-election.