MERCED — Incumbent Stan Thurston appeared poised late Tuesday to win a second term as Merced's mayor.
With all city precincts reporting, Thurston was leading with more than 52 percent of the vote. His challenger, Councilman Noah Lor, was following at nearly 47 percent.
Thurston, 68, praised his supporters and campaign volunteers during a large party at Pinocchio's Restaurant on Main Street.
With more than 600 absentee votes left to count, Thurston acknowledged that things could change after all those ballots are counted, but said he felt good about his chances.
"If everything stays the way it is, I'm extremely happy to stay as the mayor of Merced," Thurston said. "I'm glad the campaign is over. I'm very grateful for all the support of the community and the volunteers and I guarantee that I won't let them down."
Thurston praised Lor, a 49-year-old mental health clinician, for running "a tough campaign."
Merced's Don Ramsey said he voted for Thurston because of the mayor's consistent hands-on approach to government.
"He's a mayor of action," Ramsey said Tuesday night. "He investigates and probes the issues and goes about ways to bring about results."
Thurston, a retired attorney and current business co-owner, picked up key endorsements from the city police and fire department unions.
Controversy hit Thurston's re-election bid last month when a campaign worker's racist email surfaced. The email falsely characterized Lor's Hmong heritage, saying Lor was Vietnamese. The email also said Lor "doesn't know a thing about running a town" and said the challenger simply wanted to be the first "Vietnam mayor."
"We could've done without that," Thurston said. "I wish that hadn't happened. We didn't need that."
Thurston swiftly condemned the email and booted the volunteer from his campaign within hours of learning of the document.
The mayor said he resented Lor for trying to paint him as "anti-business" during the hard-fought campaign.
"That's just irritating," Thurston said. "But, I think we overcame that."
Across town Tuesday night, Lor brushed off the criticism while greeting more than 100 of his supporters at the Boys and Girls Club on 15th Street.
"We're just talking what his record shows," Lor said. "I don't think that's bad, it's just his votes on issues important to the future."
During the campaign, Lor frequently criticized Thurston for voting against a grant application for high-speed rail and for opposing construction plans for a large office complex on the south side of Mercy Avenue.
Thurston defended his decisions, saying he supported the high-speed rail grant funding, but called the planning documents "a mess." He said he voted against the office complex to defend property rights in the area.
Tuesday night, Merced voters appeared to side with Thurston on those issues.
Lor is in the middle of his second term in office, which is set to expire in 2015, and Thurston noted that Lor has two more years to serve on the City Council.
"I'm still really looking forward to working with him," Thurston said.
Thurston was first elected to the Merced City Council in 1995 and stepped down eight years later. He came back to city politics in 2011 to win his first term as mayor.
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