Steve Brandau took an early lead over Pat Di Cicco on Tuesday in their race for the Fresno City Council District 2 seat, then held it comfortably late into a night of slow counts.
Brandau, a tea party activist, had a lead of more than 1,000 votes with absentee ballots and 24 of 47 precincts counted. He had 54% of the vote, compared to 46% for Di Cicco.
About midnight at his election party at The Elbow Room in Fig Garden Village, Brandau refused to claim victory, saying it would be this morning at the earliest before he could rest easy.
And just after midnight, Di Cicco said he wouldn't concede. "Anything is possible," he said, noting there were barely half the precincts reported.
The winner will replace Andreas Borgeas, who served one term and is headed to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors in January.
Di Cicco was the top vote-getter in the five-candidate June primary with 25% of the ballots. Brandau was second with 22%.
Di Cicco was upbeat early in the evening at his election party at the Di Cicco's Restaurant on the corner of Blackstone and Barstow avenues.
The campaign "was a great experience," Di Cicco said. Residents "loved the fact I was giving back to the community."
Bus drivers' union President Rick Steitz was among those partying with Di Cicco.
Mayor Ashley Swearengin and Borgeas joined Brandau at his crowded party. Early in the evening, Brandau noted that he had been way behind after the count of absentee ballots in the primary.
"To be ahead this early feels good," Brandau said. "But it's still early."
Di Cicco and Brandau joked during the campaign that they look much alike -- middle-aged, no hair, a bit of padding around the waist.
They survived similar carpetbagging charges in the primary. Brandau moved into the northwest Fresno district from northeast's District 6. Di Cicco moved into the district from a county island within the district's boundaries.
They also shared much the same political vision.
Both praised the small-business owner as the main source of jobs in a city desperate to cut its unemployment rate. Both said they'd get a giant pair of scissors and cut the City Hall red tape that is stifling local entrepreneurs. Both said they want to reduce crime and help Fresno return to its glory days.
The winner won't get a honeymoon. The city is facing an estimated $5 million deficit this year, the latest in a long line of million-dollar shortfalls. Labor conflict remains a sore spot, particularly with a Fresno Police Officers Association whose contract doesn't expire until mid-2015 but which is constantly asked to accept voluntary wage/benefit cuts. The Swearengin administration takes the lead in these talks, but the council must approve any deal.
Di Cicco ran a campaign based in large part on name recognition -- seemingly everyone has eaten a Di Cicco's pizza. Brandau, on the other hand, touted his fiscally conservative tea party roots and his enthusiasm for the often arcane details of public policy.
If he wins, Brandau said, he'll hit the ground running after taking the oath of office in January.
"The city of Fresno needs me to be ready on Day One," Brandau said.
Brandau or Di Cicco will join a municipal government with only a modestly different look come January.
Council Member Larry Westerlund is termed out in January. He will be replaced by Paul Caprioglio, who beat Susan Good in June in a two-candidate primary in District 4.
The rest of the lineup is unchanged, even though two other offices were up for grabs when the year began. No one wanted to tackle incumbent Lee Brand in District 6, so he ran unopposed to victory in the primary. And Swearengin had no trouble beating a handful of underfunded opponents in the primary to earn a second term.
Staff writer Angel Moreno contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.