Steamboat Springs In what turned out to be the most lopsided race of the 2009 election, Cari Hermacinski defeated Kevin Bennett for a District 1 seat on the Steamboat Springs City Council. She won with 63.6 percent of the vote, 2,066 to 1,184.
"It's been such a pleasure for me to serve the community, and I am thrilled they want me to do it for four more years," Hermacinski said while celebrating Tuesday evening at Old Town Pub.
The most compelling race in this year's election pitted former City Council President Bennett against Hermacinski, who is well-positioned to be the next council president. Hermacinski has served as president pro tem for two years under City Council President Loui Antonucci, who is leaving the council.
Bennett and Hermacinski also are next-door neighbors in Old Town.
"Certainly, I want to thank the people who supported me and were concerned about the issues I raised," Bennett said. "I thought the conversation in Steamboat was carried forward in this election."
Bennett, 61, is a semi-retired businessman. He served on City Council from 1993 to 2001 and was president of the body from 1995 to 2001. In seeking a return to the council, Bennett described himself as the "loyal opposition" and was not shy about his dissatisfaction with City Council policies since the 2007 election about issues such as water capacity and infrastructure.
Bennett's council career was highlighted by various projects preserving open space, expanding parklands and building new city amenities such as Centennial Hall and Howelsen Ice Arena. Bennett said such accomplishments were the result of partnership and collaboration. Detractors have criticized the way projects were funded and described Bennett's political style as dictatorial.
Hermacinski, a 39-year-old attorney and business owner, was elected to the council's two-year, at-large seat in 2007. She left that seat to run against Bennett in the District 1 race. She campaigned on a platform stressing fiscal responsibility, open and transparent government, collaboration with Routt County government and the Yampa Valley Housing Authority and smart growth.
Hermacinski said the City Council has balanced its budget, embraced the Yampa Valley Housing Authority and the Routt County Regional Building Department and reduced the frequency with which it meets in executive, or secret, session since she was elected.
Critics view Hermacinski as a brash politician who too often sides with the development community in her decisions.
The biggest growth issue to face the city in decades, however, was mostly taken off the table in the District 1 race. Bennett campaigned heavily against the Steamboat 700 annexation, and Hermacinski's support waned in the face of cost estimates for the associated infrastructure projects. Even though she voted against it, the council approved the 487-acre, 2,000-home annexation in a 4-3 vote in October, but it is still subject to petitioners' efforts to bring the project to a citywide referendum vote.