CONCORD -- Voters have elected incumbent Dan Helix and longtime city watchdog Ed Birsan to City Council, ending a campaign that took a nasty turn in the final weeks.
Meanwhile, one resident's campaign against a city measure to switch the treasurer position from elected to appointed appeared to be paying off as it appears Measure J will not pass.
With nearly all the precincts reporting, Helix enjoyed a comfortable lead and Birsan led police union-backed Tim McGallian.
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 Birsan.
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 and Carol Longshore, Robert David Camacho and Vernon Kurpieski.
Louis Mazzarella, who was the only vocal opponent to the measure, pouring his own money into his 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 old 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) have done so.
Thomas Wentling, who supports the measure, has held the position since 1986. The measure would become effective at the end of Wentling's current term in 2014 or sooner if he chooses to resign.
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David DeBolt covers Concord and Clayton. Contact him at 925-943-8048.