Fremont City Council will see big shakeup with election
Daniel Carson, ReporterPublished 7:30 p.m. ET Nov. 7, 2017 | Updated 2:30 p.m. ET Nov. 8, 2017
2 Democrats win upsets; First Ward race separated by 2 votes
FREMONT - A pair of Democratic challengers pulled off upsets in Tuesday's Fremont City Council election, and Ward 1 residents are still waiting to see who their new council member will be in 2018 in a too-close-to-call race.
Democratic challengers Chris Liebold and Jim Sleek won their races by slim margins in Wards 4 and 2. But the closest council race of the night involved the county's Republican Party chairman in a tight battle with a former Democratic city councilman. In the city's First Ward, Republican Justin Smith leads Democrat Don Nalley by two votes — 323 to 321 — according to unofficial vote totals released by the Sandusky County Board of Elections. Provisional vote totals for county races will be counted and certified Nov. 21, Lisa Hartley of the board of elections said Wednesday. She said there could be as many as 11 provisional ballots that need to be counted. "I'm very grateful I'm in the lead. I hope it stays that way in two weeks," Smith said.
Liebold said he looked forward to serving the people of the Fourth Ward. He got 306 votes, or 53.5 percent, compared to 265 for Republican incumbent Tony Taylor. His energy and new ideas were keys to securing the victory, Liebold said. "I took the time to work for the people's vote," Liebold said as he celebrated with other city Democrats at the 818 Club restaurant after the results came in.
A jubilant Angie Ruiz, who ran unopposed for re-election on the council in Ward 3, hugged Liebold and joked, "I've been surrounded by Republicans," after Liebold heard the unofficial results.
Sleek received 291 votes, or 51.5 percent, compared to incumbent Kathy Stout's 274, or 48.5 percent. A first-time candidate, Sleek said he would be focused on finding ways to fill empty buildings and bring new businesses into the city and his ward. He specifically mentioned Potter Village and the future of the Kroger building there as concerns he hoped to address as a new council member. "I'm the guy to do it now," Sleek said after receiving word on his close victory.
Nalley said both candidates had worked hard in the race. When reached, Nalley wasn't sure how many votes he trailed Smith by in the unofficial results and said he was out picking up campaign signs. "We just kind of have to wait and see what the final outcome is," Nalley said.
Incumbent First Ward Councilman Mike Koebel declined to run for re-election, leaving the seat open for either Nalley or Smith. Nalley had served as a council member for 12 years before losing to Koebel in 2013. He served as director of adult services with the Sandusky County Board of Developmental Disabilities and CEO of Sandco Industries before his retirement.
Shortly after Smith graduated from Fremont Ross High School he ran unsuccessfully against Nalley in 2003 for city council. He has been chairman of the Sandusky County Republican Party since 2008 and also served on the county's board of elections and Fremont's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. Nalley said he plans to remain positive and hopes the outcome changes once the provisional ballots are counted and certified in two weeks.
Stout said she wasn't upset by the loss and knew it would be a close race, although she thought she ultimately would prevail and win re-election. She said Smith told her she could ask for a recount, and that she would think about the option. Taylor was appointed to the council in 2016 to replace Bob Gross, who resigned from council in December 2015 to take a position in Mayor Danny Sanchez's administration. Taylor acknowledged he was disappointed with Tuesday's result and said he would miss being on council. He thanked the voters who turned out at the polls in an election with low voter turnout — about 33 percent of registered voters, according to the board of elections. "People will definitely see me around," Taylor said, adding that he may run for office again.
Treasurer Holly Elder, a Democrat, was unopposed in her re-election bid. She picked up 1,756 votes. Ruiz got 445 votes as an unopposed candidate in the city's Third Ward.