Originally Published: August 26, 2015 12:07 a.m.
PRESCOTT - The Prescott mayor's race, which many voters said was too close to predict, turned out to be just that.
By a slim margin Tuesday, Aug. 25, retired Army Col. Harry Oberg became the apparent winner in the race for Prescott mayor.
Oberg ended the night Tuesday with 7,008 votes, to his opponent Dan Fraijo's 6,763 votes - for a 50.61-to-48.84-percent lead.
Officials with the Yavapai County Recorder's office and the Prescott City Clerk's office have emphasized that the results are considered "unofficial" - at least until after 560 remaining ballots are verified/counted on Wednesday, Aug. 26.
Even so, the supporters of the two candidates took the results to heart Tuesday night.
At Whiskey Row's Jersey Lilly Saloon, where Oberg and his supporters gathered, word of the results produced chants of "Harry, Harry," until Oberg took the stage to thank his supporters.
At Brick & Bones bistro just down the street, where Fraijo and three council candidates gathered with their supporters, the announcement of results put a decided pall on the mood.
While all three of the candidates listed on the ballot - Steve Sischka, Billie Orr, and Jim Lamerson - won seats on the council, Fraijo came up 245 votes short.
"It was a good race," Fraijo said after hearing the results. Although uncertain what may have made the difference in the race, he said, "I had heard that if PSPRS fails, I probably would too."
Fraijo, the former Prescott fire chief, had voiced strong support for the city's proposed 0.55-percent sales tax that was intended to pay off the unfunded liability in the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS). The measure was overwhelmingly rejected by voters in the primary.
Oberg, who had diverged from the other Prescott candidates in opposing the PSPRS tax, allowed that his win may have been related to the fate of the tax. "There could have been some relationship to that," he said.
Oberg added that he was "looking forward" to working through the issues that would come with the failure of the sales tax. City officials have estimated that $1.8 million would have to be cut from the city's budget in the next two years to make up for the ever-increasing costs for the unfunded pension costs.
"I know we have hard work ahead of us," Oberg added.
Indeed, all of the primary winners said they were prepared for the job.
"I'm very excited and ready to get to work," Orr said late Tuesday. "I'm disappointed that the (PSPRS measure) didn't pass. However, the voters have spoken, so we'll find a way. I'm pretty positive. I think we can find solutions."
Sischka expressed similar views. "We have to deal with what we have to deal with," he said. "No matter how it came out, we were going to have to make it work. I'm really excited about getting to work."
Lamerson called the results a "glass is half empty, glass is half full" situation. "I'm glad voters approved taking care of the roads. (On the PSPRS issue), we'll go to work tomorrow."
But, Lamerson added, "At some level, there is going to be no reprieve on the general fund. There will have to be changes."
Along with the three council candidates on the ballot, Alan Dubiel ran as a write-in candidate. The unofficial results list 2,274 write-in votes, which include the votes written in for Dubiel.
The total voter response (turnout) exceeded the results in recent city elections. By the 7 p.m. ballot deadline, 14,637 votes were in, for about 56 percent of the city's 26,352 registered voters.
That is considerably more than the 12,749 votes (49 percent) in the 2013 primary, and more than the 12,281 voters (48 percent) in 2011.
Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2034, or 928-642-0951.