COLUMBIA — Laura Nauser emerged from a three-way special election contest Tuesday to narrowly regain the Fifth Ward seat on the Columbia City Council that she gave up in 2011.
The final tally from Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren's office showed Nauser with 992 votes, or 43 percent. Susan "Tootie" Burns was second with 937 votes, or 41 percent. Mark Jones placed third with 365 votes, or 16 percent.
Nauser's margin was 55 votes; a total of 2,294 ballots were cast.
Why a special election?
Tuesday's election became necessary after the resignation of former Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony, who stepped down in November to move to the East Coast to be with her husband.
Nauser's watch party
A hand went up into the air at Nauser’s watch party a little before 9:30 p.m. at D Rowe's, and all sound left the room.
Gazing intently at his phone, a supporter yelled out the percentage vote total for Nauser, letting her supporters know she had won the election.
The crowd of roughly 30 supporters erupted into hearty applause as Nauser beamed and threw her hands into the air in triumph.
“I’m very happy,” Nauser said after the noise had subsided. “I’m proud of the citizens of Columbia. This only goes to show that every vote counts, and I’m glad that so many people got out to vote.”
Fred Berry, who made a bid for state representative in the November election, was thrilled about Nauser's victory.
“I’m elated because this is a woman who is capable and experienced,” Berry said. “She is a deliberate, thoughtful and bright woman, and all those things go into making a good councilperson. She’ll be a great addition back on the council.”
Acquiescing to the cries for a speech, Nauser stepped up onto an elevated dining area as someone hit a glass with a fork.
“I am speechless,” she said. “This has been such a long road."
Nauser thanked everyone in the room, which included family and friends. She also thanked the Columbia Chamber of Commerce for its endorsement.
“Now the work begins,” she said. But first, "I’m going to go take a nap.”
Burns' watch party
Lively chatter buzzed among the 100-or-so supporters that packed into the dimly lit backroom of Bleu for Burns' watch party. An hour before the official results were announced, Burns bounced among tables, small standing huddles and the crowded bar to shake hands and engage in conversation.
By 8:20 p.m., 60 percent of the precincts had been counted. The results didn't favor Burns.
"Tootie has 39 percent of the votes. Nauser has 49 percent," Burns' campaign manager, Vicki Hobbs, said. There was a collective sigh of disappointment.
Hobbs said she was sure Burns would win one of the two remaining precincts. But when the final results were announced a little after 9 p.m., the result was clear.
"Columbia lost," one member of the crowd said. An extended round of applause followed.
"This has been a tremendous experience," Burns said. "This city is amazing. We have opportunities we can be proud of. I'm so happy to have been a small part of that process."
Retired MU political science professor Marvin Rogers said he believed Burns' loss was a tragedy caused by the votes garnered by Mark Jones.
"It was a great mistake," Rogers said. "If Mark Jones had not run, Tootie would have won."
Burns husband, Richard Burns, said he was proud of his wife.
"My wife would have been fair, she would have worked hard and would have involved herself in all the neighborhoods," Richard Burns said. "It was a great campaign. I'm proud."
Jones' watch party
Jones' watch party at 44 Stone Public House was full of local political figures: former state Sen. Chuck Graham, former state Rep. Judy Baker and representatives of the Boone County Democratic Central Committee. What was once a cheerful mood with plenty of chatter turned into a somber atmosphere, though, when results began coming in and the gap between Jones and his opponents widened.
Instead of laughter, there were more understanding, silent glances from supporters.
Jones' wife, Sharon Jones, said she was incredibly disappointed. So was Ron Leone, a lobbyist for the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.
“Regardless of the outcome, I feel like Mark Jones was the best candidate," Leone said. "I know him to be the hardest worker, the ability to always do what is right. I have no idea what the future holds for him, but he ran a great campaign. I am happy for him and for his family because it takes a lot of courage to do what he did."
Jones spoke to his supporters before they called it a night.
"We didn’t cross the finish line in the way we originally set out to do," he said. "... We ran a great campaign and tomorrow we will all wake up and go back to work. I will go back to advocating for public and higher education, which is a pretty great day job.”
Nauser will be sworn in after the results are certified and serve the remainder of Anthony's term, which expires in April 2014.
On April 2, voters will elect a mayor and council members for the Third and Fourth Wards.
Candidates for mayor include incumbent Bob McDavid and Sid Sullivan. Incumbent Gary Kespohl and Karl Skala will compete for the Third Ward seat. In the Fourth Ward, incumbent Daryl Dudley faces challenges from Ian Thomas and Bill Weitkemper.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.
Only 55 votes separated Laura Nauser from her closest opponent, Susan “Tootie” Burns, in a special election Tuesday to replace former Councilwoman Helen Anthony. Nauser won 992 votes, Burns captured 937 votes, and Mark Jones got 365 votes. (Chart by Rachel Stinebring)