CONCORD -- Voters on Tuesday elected incumbent Dan Helix and longtime city watchdog Ed Birsan to the Concord City Council and rejected a measure to change the treasurer's position from elected to appointed.
In nearby Clayton, voters endorsed the political establishment by sending incumbents Julie Pierce and Howard Geller back to their seats behind the dais, along with Jim Diaz, who after running unsuccessfully several times over the past decade has finally snagged a council seat.
Birsan, a reform candidate, beat out police union-backed Tim McGallian for the second Concord seat, in a race in which the police union took center stage.
The campaign of 11 candidates for two seats began quietly but exploded in the final weeks after the police officer's union sent out a mailer attacking Birsan. It accused him of hiding his full name, Edi Ersalesi Birsan, from voters -- a move seen by Birsan backers as a desperate attempt with racial undertones to scare voters from electing him.
Birsan, who posed with the campaign mailer at his election party Tuesday night, said afterward the union "shot themselves in the foot."
"This has been a pretty rough election," said Birsan, who ran a self-financed campaign. "I look forward to trying to mend all the fences that have been smashed. Let's get everyone looking on things we hold in common rather than things that divide us."
The influential union spent thousands in support of Helix and planning commissioner McGallian, but the pair distanced themselves from the mailer and said they were blindsided by it.
On Tuesday night, McGallian remained "hopeful" and was not ready to concede.
"Not yet," McGallian said via text message. "Let's count all the votes."
Indeed, a number of mail-in ballots remained uncounted Wednesday morning.
The election may be the last for Helix, who served as a councilman in the 1970s before returning to fill a vacancy in 2010. He has indicated this may be his final term.
Other hopefuls were Harmesh Kumar, Melanie Sheehan-Carter, Suzanne Davis-Lucey, Alany Helmantoler, Terry Kremin, Carol Longshore, Robert David Camacho and Vernon Kurpieski.
Clayton's Pierce and Geller held a commanding lead on election night. Diaz took a lead of about 1.1 percent over Kevin Liberman for the third and final seat.
The race made news with the conviction of incumbent Joe Medrano on one count of felony embezzlement in October.
A jury found Medrano, an insurance broker, guilty of taking $159,000 from a Redwood Shores-based client and never forwarding the money to the insurance company.
After fighting the claims throughout the court proceedings, Medrano resigned from office three days after the verdict. The verdict, however, came too late for Medrano's name to be removed from the Nov. 6 ballot.
However, 721 people have voted for Medrano so far.
Louis Mazzarella, who was the only vocal opponent to Measure J, pouring his own money into the campaign which he ran out of the skilled nursing home on San Miguel Road, was pleased with the results Tuesday. Mazzarella said the elected position has worked for 105 years and that there is no need to change it now.
"The people have won. They've spoken," said Mazzarella. "You know the adage? 'You can't fight city hall.' I fought it."
Proponents of the measure, including longtime Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister, have said the measure would eliminate one position and save the city approximately $24,000 a year. Supporters have also said the job is mostly ceremonial and could be handled by city staff.
State law allows cities to appoint someone to the position, and 307 of 480 cities statewide (12 of 19 cities in Contra Costa County) have done so.
Thomas Wentling, who supports the measure, has held the position since 1986. The measure would have become effective at the end of Wentling's current term in 2014 or sooner if he chose to resign.
Mazzarella believes the issue will return in the next election in two years.
Concord and Clayton residents will also be impacted by the failure of Measure Q, the Contra Costa Fire District parcel tax which fell well short of the two-thirds approval needed Tuesday. Without the tax revenue, the fire district has said it will have to close a third of its 28 fire stations. Concord and Clayton are within the fire district.
David DeBolt covers Concord and Clayton. Contact him at 925-943-8048. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.