Former Colorado Attorney General John Suthers came within fewer than 2,000 votes Tuesday of avoiding a runoff election to be Colorado Springs' next mayor.
In a 9:28 p.m. release of results, Suthers had 47.2 percent of the vote. Former Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace received 23.1 percent, and will face Suthers in a May 19 runoff election because no candidate received more than 50 percent of the total vote.
Former City Councilman Joel Miller tallied 15.5 percent, El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen got 11.3 percent and Lawrence Martinez and Tony Carpenter each received slightly more than 1 percent to round out an election that saw only about one-third of registered voters cast their ballot.
Final results were expected to come sometime around midnight Tuesday.
Suthers and Makepeace raised the most money - Suthers brought in more than $340,000 and Makepeace took in more than $88,000 during the campaign, though Suthers has far more in the bank, about $80,000, compared with about $6,000 for Makepeace.
"This is beyond our most optimistic projections. Based on polling, we were expecting 40 percent at most," Suthers said. "We are incredibly well-positioned for the runoff. Tomorrow (Wednesday) we start work on getting the necessary votes for May."
Suthers held his election-night watch party at the Mining Exchange Hotel, where Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, 4th Judicial Attorney Dan May, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder and El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey were among the 100 supporters.
Suthers said he accomplished two of his three goals in qualifying for the runoff and "finishing first" in the voting. His third goal, being elected mayor, remains to be accomplished. He congratulated Makepeace for qualifying for the runoff, Miller for running a "principled limited-government campaign and Lathen for her "infectious enthusiasm."
Suthers said his campaign message "resonated with voters". That message include "changing the political environment at City Hall to be more conducive to community and economic development," coming up with plans to fix the city's backlog of public improvements and promoting job creation."
Throngs of supporters packed downtown restaurant Nosh for Makepeace's watch party. The atmosphere became subdued as the first results were posted, showing Makepeace trailing Suthers by a substantial margin.
Makepeace said she was anticipating a runoff.
"John is a strong candidate, and I am a strong candidate. I say let the next five weeks begin," she said.
Makepeace said she will launch a "more detailed" campaign, telling voters how her support of "citizen engagement in government" would pan out.
"I got into this race because I wanted to demonstrate there are many voices in the community, and we've shown there are this evening and in the votes," she said. "I love this community and I want what's best for Colorado Springs."
At her watch party at the downtown venue, The Mezzanine, Lathen said the "platform that I'm pushing doesn't go away, I'm going to continue working."
Lathen, who threw her support behind Suthers in the upcoming runoff, said her pro-business platform impacted the campaign and changed the debate,
"It has changed the conversation and we're very excited about that," she said. "We have changed the dialogue. I have watched it happen. I watched it in the debates and forums. Changing the dynamic for business is just huge."
Suthers' big fundraising lead made him the man to beat from the moment he entered the race in September. His long career in public service includes two terms as 4th Judicial District Attorney, a stint as director of the Colorado Department of Corrections and 10 years as the state Attorney General. He has stressed his management skills and touted himself as a kind of peacemaker to bridge the communication gap between the mayor's office and the City Council.
Makepeace also has had a long career in public service, including 12 years on the City Council before she was elected as the city's first female mayor in 1997 and re-elected in 1999 under the former council-manager form of city government that was replaced by a strong executive mayor in 2010.
She was best known for persuading voters to approve a 1999 bond issue to pay for $88 million in capital projects and has pledged to seek more public input into ways to combat the city's $1 billion in capital needs.
The campaign focused on building a more collaborative approach with City Council following a combative four years that followed the change to the strong mayor system with Bach's election in 2011. Candidates also have debated ways to solve the city's backlog of public improvements.
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