Steamboat Springs Steamboat voters called for change Tuesday.
Challengers convincingly won all three Steamboat Springs City Council races involving incumbent candidates. The closest of the contests was the District 3 race between Councilwoman Karen Post and Jon Quinn. Quinn won with 56 percent of the vote.
The three challengers seemed stunned by the strength of their victories, especially Cari Hermacinski. She defeated Councilman Towny Anderson in the at-large race with 61 percent of the vote.
"It was definitely a message from the community that they want to see change," Quinn said. "I bet the biggest surprise tomorrow is going to be the Cari-Towny race, and that's really a reflection of how hard Cari worked."
The two sides awaited election results Tuesday night from impromptu campaign headquarters set up at restaurants near the Routt County Courthouse, where the results were updated periodically throughout the evening. There was a triumphant mood at Old Town Pub & Restaurant, where challengers Quinn, Hermacinski and Scott Myller gathered, along with candidates Walter Magill and Paul Hughes.
A more somber mood prevailed two blocks away at Tequilas Mexican restaurant, where incumbents Anderson, Post and Council President Susan Dellinger gathered, along with other council candidates Vince Arroyo and Meg Bentley. Congratulations were replaced by reassuring hugs and pats on the back.
"My faith in Steamboat is renewed," Hermacinski said. "I'm happy they went to the polls and made the choices they did."
Although surprised that the races weren't closer, Hermacinski said she hopes the strong victories mean there is community consensus on which the next City Council can build.
Anderson said the incumbents' losses might have been a result of their willingness to confront tough issues in the community.
"We took a risk," Anderson said. "We tackled issues that hadn't been tackled. : Arguably, you could say we got ahead of the community. : I created my own liabilities."
Anderson wished Hermacinski luck going forward.
"My hat's off to the organization and focus of the folks behind Cari," he said. "They were able to frame the issues in ways that captured the attention and the interest of the voters."
If money is any measure, the at-large race was the most hotly contested City Council contest on this year's ballot. Anderson and Hermacinski raised a combined $22,415 by the reporting period that ended Oct. 26. The other eight City Council candidates raised a combined $36,999.
Beyond their fundraising prowess, Anderson and Hermacinski proved to have little in common. Their race was perhaps the most distinctly defined of the five council contests; the two often found themselves diametrically opposed during clashes at candidate forums.
Hermacinski, a Steamboat Springs planning commissioner and attorney, was a vocal and unrelenting critic of the current City Council's practices, especially the frequency with which it met in executive, or secret, session. Hermacinski's campaign vowed to restore openness to city government.
Anderson vigorously defended council's executive sessions and said they served the city's best interests, particularly when real estate transactions were being discussed. Had those transactions been publicly advertised, Anderson said prices would have been driven up at taxpayers' expense.
Myller was succinct in his comments Tuesday. He said he felt "dizzy," both from the shock of his win and from a cold he was recovering from. Myller said he didn't know what to expect.
"I was prepared for both ways," he said. "It would have been fun to win and kind of a relief to lose."
Dellinger said she was worried about accomplishments of the current City Council, such as affordable housing legislation passed earlier this year, being undone before they have a chance to succeed.
"Any council can do anything at any time," Dellinger said. "I would worry about things that were perceived as negative by some not being given a chance to see how they will work."
Myller, a Steamboat Springs planning commissioner and architect at West Elevation, withstood campaign attacks that suggested he would be a pawn of the development community. At an Oct. 10 forum, Myller said the city needs to be more trusting of private developers, including those who propose to build more than 2,000 new homes in an area west of the city that likely will be annexed into the city.
"How much are we going to entangle this person who wants to meet our needs?" Myller asked, noting that city plans have identified the west of Steamboat area as a location for growth. "Now, there's someone here who wants to do it. Let's let them do it."
Seizing on such comments, Dellinger, the current City Council president, aligned herself with the other incumbents and cast herself as the candidate who will better represent the interests of the community in negotiations with developers.
Dellinger was elected to City Council in 2003 and has served as its president since January.
Quinn was "overwhelmed" by his victory Tuesday night.
"Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if Karen won in a landslide," Quinn said. "Karen ran a great campaign. She's definitely a class act, and I know she cares a lot about her community. Obviously I'm pleased by the result, but I'm surprised."
Post said she had no idea what to expect on Election Day, but admitted being worried by the amount of money Quinn raised during the campaign. His $12,250 was second only to Anderson's $12,315.
"I guess that's the difference between small-town politics and Washington, D.C.," said Post, referring to the large number of donations Quinn received from his hometown, where his father was once legal counsel to President Bill Clinton.
Quinn, owner of Northwest Data Services in Steamboat, tried to focus his campaign on the message, "Families come first," but he was increasingly forced to defend himself - like several other City Council candidates - against charges that if elected he would be a minion of development interests.
So determined was he to fend off that argument that Quinn returned campaign donations from people who might be considered part of the development community.
Although an incumbent, Post was largely a newcomer coming into this year's election. She was appointed to City Council last year to fulfill a term vacated by Kevin Kaminski. In her short time on City Council, Post, a practicing psychotherapist, joked that she had served as council's therapist and been instrumental in getting the seven-member body to work together efficiently.