A longtime Manitou Springs attorney and community activist took a strong lead in his bid to unseat the city's first-term mayor.
Ken Jaray claimed a 65 percent to 35 percent advantage over incumbent Nicole Nicoletta, with 1,987 votes counted as of 8:41 p.m. It appeared he would take office with voters having split their ballot on city initiatives - emphatically rejecting a new firefighting training center but agreeing to join myriad other cities in opting out of a state law regarding high-speed Internet and cable service.
Surrounded by scores of onlookers, Jaray, 63, called the results "heartwarming" and danced along with four supporters as they led a rendition of "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" during his party at The Manitou Arts Center.
"People here want to feel connected to each other," Jaray said. "That's what I've been trying to do for 38 years."
The race bore none of the suspense of 2015, when Nicoletta won her seat by a mere 10 votes.
Over the last several months, Nicoletta argued the city flourished under her tenure. She pointed to progress on flood mitigation projects, as well as in alleviating congestion along Ruxton Avenue - the main access point for the Pikes Peak Cog Railway and the Manitou Incline.
"We've come a very long way in two years," she said Monday.
But she also was at the center of several controversial decisions, including to remove several trees at Canon and Washington avenues - a move that Jaray has pointed to as having lacked resident input.
A retired lawyer, Jaray has said the city became deaf to its residents' desires.
"I don't think it's as important for our community about how much we get done," Jaray said Monday. "I think it's important how we get it done."
He is a well-known face in this mountainside hamlet, having previously served as the city's attorney, as well as on the boards of Manitou Springs School District 14, the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau and in several other community initiatives.He also held a major fundraising advantage in the campaign, bringing in about $9,000, compared to Nicoletta's $1,100, through Oct. 29.
On Tuesday evening, he boasted of the support of eight of Manitou Springs' former mayors, while also praising Nicoletta, saying "she has worked hard, she has worked tirelessly."
Nicoletta did not return a call from The Gazette Tuesday evening.
Several supporters hailed Jaray's election as a fresh start for the city after a fractious two years.
"I think he can heal the rift that's been created in our community," said outgoing City Councilmember Coreen Toll, who lost the race for mayor two years ago to Nicoletta. "She just lacked the experience. She got defensive when challenged."
Nancy Fortuin, 62, will take Toll's seat after having run unopposed.
She'll be joined on the council by Susan Wolbrueck and Bob Todd, both of whom also ran unopposed.
FIREFIGHTER TRAINING MEASURE GOES DOWN
Residents also appeared headed toward voting down Issue 2B - a bid by the Manitou Springs Fire Department to create a new training center. It was trailing 77 percent to 23 percent, with 1,994 votes counted at 8:41 p.m.
Firefighters said they needed to center to avoid leaving the city about five times a year to train elsewhere. The question asked to allow the city to borrow $3.9 million, which would be repaid at a cost of up to $7 million. The proposed 11,000 square foot center was to include a two-story training center and classroom.
Said Jim Romano of Manitou Citizens for Financial Sustainability, "Nice to have for the Manitou Springs Fire Department. But not needed for this community."
Dave Hunting, a fire department spokesman, said the department will continue serving residents. However, he added that another training center proposal will likely be put before voters in the future.
Residents appeared to green-light Issue 2C, which will allow the city to opt out of a state law concerning high-speed internet and cable service. The measure was passing 84 percent to 16 percent, with 1,880 votes counted at 8:41 p.m.
DISTRICT 14 RACE
Natalie Johnson and Christina Vidovich also jumped out to leads in the five-way race for two seats on the Manitou Springs School District 14 Board of Education.
Johnson had 28 percent of the vote, followed by Vidovich with 22 percent, Jack Sharon at 19 percent, Anna H. Lord with 17 percent and Jonathan T. Dooley with 14 percent, as of 8:41 p.m.