RICHMOND -- Incumbents Nat Bates and Tom Butt were headed to victory in Tuesday's City Council election, with challenger Gary Bell poised to take the other available slot.
With all precincts reporting, Bates was in the lead with 17.9 percent of the vote, followed by Butt at 15.6 percent and Bell at 15.2 percent.
Eduardo Martinez was next at 14.2 percent, and Marilyn Langlois had 11.2 percent. The other six candidates well short of 10 percent.
An undetermined number of mail-in ballots remained to be counted Wednesday morning.
The top three vote-getters will have a seat on the council beginning in January. Butt stopped short of saying that his spot was secure late Tuesday but was already thinking about his next term in office.
"I gave up predicting Richmond politics," Butt, 68, said from his campaign office in Point Richmond. "I'll be glad when this is over, and we can get back to normal business."
Bates, 81, said he was happy to have performed well with early votes.
"The African-American and Latino voters in Richmond, they tend to prefer to vote at the polls in person on Election Day," Bates said in a hallway in the Hotel Mac, where supporters declared him a winner. "I think we'll do very well."
At least one of the three seats will be filled by a new face.
Councilman Jeff Ritterman, a former cardiologist who spearheaded a number of high-profile initiatives in his four years, announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election in order to spend more time with family.
"I don't know exactly what my future is," Ritterman said, speaking over merengue music playing at the election party at the Richmond Progressive Alliance's downtown offices. "I'll be unemployed in January for the first time in my life."
Longtime incumbents Bates and Butt were looking to stay in power in a field that featured nine other candidates.
The tumultuous campaigns came against the backdrop of millions in American Beverage Industry funding against local beverage tax Measure N. The council race was also heavily influenced by more than a million dollars from Chevron Corp., the major donor to independent expenditure committee Moving Forward.
It all equaled an unprecedented cavalcade of campaign spending in the blue-collar city of just over 100,000 residents.
Chevron's dollars have been used to support the campaigns of Bates and Bell and challenger Bea Roberson.
At the same time, the campaign spent about $200,000 opposing Langlois and Martinez, including creating websites devoted to divulging unflattering information about both candidates.
Langlois and Martinez both raised money from mostly small donors and public financing, and their campaigns were boosted by support from the RPA's vaunted ground game.
In addition to advertisements, mailers, billboards and websites supporting or opposing candidates, Chevron's money was used to contract with public relations firms, consultants and polling groups, campaign records show.
The new council will convene in January, beginning a period that some hope will include some cooled relations. Major issues confront the city, including ongoing talks with Chevron over its refinery upgrade plans and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which will build a massive new campus in Richmond over the next few years.
The 2010-12 council was one of the more divisive and embittered in recent memory.
Ritterman said late Tuesday that Martinez and Langlois both had strong chances of catching Bell for the third and final council slot. Ritterman noted that in 2008, he fell behind during early voting.
"I was fourth when I went to sleep that night and first by a big margin when I woke up in the morning," Ritterman said, smiling.