COLUMBIA — With the help of Second Ward voters Tuesday, real estate agent Jason Thornhill closed the deal on his latest bit of prime property, the Columbia City Council seat left vacant by the retirement of 18-year incumbent Chris Janku.
But it was a squeaker. Thornhill, 38, won with 636 votes, or 51.2 percent, compared to opponent Allan Sharrock's 607 votes, or 48.8 percent.
"I always thought it would be close just because our positions are so similar," Thornhill said Tuesday night while celebrating with supporters at Bandana's Bar-B-Q in the Second Ward. "There are 607 people who thought maybe I wasn't the right guy, so I have to work hard and show that I am."
Sharrock, a 29-year-old middle school teacher and Missouri Army National Guard captain, congratulated his opponent.
"It was a good race," Sharrock said. "To only lose by 29 votes shows that I run a pretty successful campaign with my resources that I had available to me."
"I'm happy for Jason. I think he'll do an excellent job as a City Council member. I congratulate him, and I look forward to the new ideas he is going to bring to the table," Sharrock said.
Thornhill raised $9,225 over the course of the election, with major contributors including the state's Realtors Political Action Committee and Kliethermes Homes and Remodeling, Inc.
Sharrock raised $1,792; his biggest donation was a collective contribution from his family.
The competitors took similar stances on key issues, differentiating themselves based on experience, disposition and specific policy proposals. When they spoke side by side in candidate forums, the difference between Sharrock's forceful declarations and Thornhill's measured responses was a striking testament to their disparate backgrounds and styles.
Retiree Virginia Morison, 66, said she voted for Thornhill because she saw parallels between him and another politician who has met with recent electoral success.
"I actually liked both of them," Morison said. "But Jason Thornhill kind of threw it his way when he said somebody he liked was Obama and I thought: Well, if Obama can straighten out the country, maybe Thornhill can straighten out the city."
Information technology professional Jeff Perkins, 44, chose Sharrock based on his resume.
"I liked his military leadership and his success in that, and that he's a teacher," Perkins said after voting at the Knights of Columbus hall.
Both men pledged to make public safety and crime reduction a priority, and each put forward unique proposals. Thornhill advocated working with landlords to prevent rentals to big-city criminals and repeat offenders, while Sharrock suggested the possible construction of a second police station in the city.
The duo, both described as "pro business" at times, did not differ significantly in their economic proposals, though Sharrock took a stronger stand against "abuse" of eminent domain.
When confronted with the city's shrinking revenue and mounting budgetary woes, Thornhill said he would cut programs that don't offer an adequate return on the city's investment. Sharrock was more specific, saying the parks and trails budget probably would need to be reduced and declaring that he would vote against the renewal of the quarter-cent park sales tax in 2010.
Thornhill said the budget will be one of the primary challenges during his first term.
"There's going to have to be some programs that get reduced," he said.