Only 44 votes separate incumbent Fred Strong and challenger Jim Reed for a second seat on the Paso Robles City Council, but a final sweep of 2,621 ballots that must still be counted could tip the balance.
In the council race in which two seats are up for grabs, 28 percent of ballots counted favored local businessman Steve Martin, while nearly 24 percent chose Strong, according to the San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder’s Office’s unofficial results released early Wednesday
But with the results of thousands of ballots still up in the air, Reed, who scored 23.2 percent of the vote, still has a chance for a comeback.
Reed didn’t return calls or emails seeking comment Wednesday but spent recent weeks pushing a platform of change in a city where a $250,000 payout to former Police Chief Lisa Solomon made many residents distrustful of officials.
Strong pledged to lobby the state for money to fix roads and to continue his focus on economic development.
On Wednesday, Strong said he’s optimistic that he could keep his lead, which rests on the final count of a mix of vote-by-mail, provisional and damaged ballots. He also said he’s not surprised that voters would so closely favor an incumbent alongside a newcomer.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “I think this is the American way and believe every single one of the candidates has the best interest of the city at heart — we don’t always agree, but we have the city in mind.”
Shifting the balance of the council was a key issue in the election, which was steeped in contention after some local residents disagreed with several council decisions.
Citizens group Change Paso Robles Now was among those voicing concern. The group was created this past spring after several residents said they were fed up with how the city was run, raising concerns over deep budget cuts and certain expenditures to tourism. The group didn’t endorse any one candidate, but urged fresh faces to join the election race this year. Members weren’t available for comment Wednesday.