Sandberg top vote-getter in Peoria
Longtime Peoria councilman gathers most votes, while political newcomer Spain finishes second

By Jennifer Davis
Published February 28th 2007 in Peoria Journal-Star
PEORIA - Gary Sandberg is Peoria's longest-serving council member and, on Tuesday, also the most popular.

Sandberg outpaced his 13 challengers all night, garnering the top spot with a total 5,518 votes, or about 17 percent of the total 32,220 votes cast in Tuesday's primary election. Vote totals are rounded to the nearest vote though the city's tally will show decimals because of cumulative voting, which allows voters to give one candidate five votes or split them among several.

Sandberg and nine other at-large City Council candidates will advance to the general election April 17 in which voters will choose five at-large council members.

Overall voter turnout was low - 6,503 voters of the city's 66,540 registered voters, only 9.8 percent, came to the polls. Though it didn't hurt him personally, Sandberg lamented the poor turnout.

"It would be good if the turnout was much better. It's sad to see elections like this. People are just so down; they're disconnected from local government,"

Sandberg said afterward.

Still, the number two candidate was Ryan Spain, a 24-year-old unknown running for his first public office. He got 4,575 votes, or 14 percent.

"I'm just thrilled. Finishing number two for a new candidate, a young candidate, is just great," said Spain, a public policy manager for The Heartland Partnership. "We were out knocking on doors. I'm sure we knocked on more doors than anyone else."

Finishing third with 4,541 votes, or 14 percent, was incumbent George Jacob, who was first appointed to the council two years ago to take the at-large seat vacated by Mayor Jim Ardis. Jacob, president of Brewers Distributing, couldn't be reached for comment late Tuesday.

Veteran at-large Council Member Eric Turner, who was first elected in 1995, finished fourth with 4,371 votes, or 13.6 percent.

Jim Montelongo, who owns his own business, ran unsuccessfully for the City Council in 2001 but finished fifth Tuesday with 3,420 votes, or 11 percent. He also couldn't be reached for comment late Tuesday.

The following candidates fill out the top 10 advancing to the general election: former council member Gale Thetford in sixth place with 2,234 votes; Patti Sterling-Polk in seventh with 1,622 votes; Dan Irving in eighth place with 1,592 votes; Charles Schierer in ninth place with 1,565 votes; and Gloria Cassel Fitzgerald in 10th place with 946 votes.

Sandberg notes that much can change between now and April 17.

"A lot more people will vote, and we get into the whole dynamics of people deciding who needs their vote the most," Sandberg said. "There can be wide, wide shifts."

Of the four candidates who lost Tuesday, for three of them this was also their first run for City Council.

Dan Gillette, a retired city worker, did run unsuccessfully for a council district seat in 2005. He came in at number 11 Tuesday with 603 votes, or less than 2 percent. Brad Carter, an East Bluff neighborhood activist, was 12th with 567 votes, or less than 2 percent. Kelley Mammen, also an East Bluff neighborhood activist, was 13th with 338 votes, or 1 percent, and Donald Cummings placed last with 328 votes, or 1 percent.