LA CENTER — After 12 years with Jim Irish leading the charge, the city of La Center will soon have a new mayor. Voters in that city have elected City Councilor Greg Thornton to replace Irish, who did not run for re-election this year.
Thornton, 59, a former La Center Planning Commission chair and current city councilor, beat out fellow city councilor Al Luiz in last week’s Nov. 3 General Election. With 97 percent of the ballots counted as of Friday, Thornton had won the election with 58 percent of votes.
Voter turnout across the country was low this year, and Clark County was no exception. Of the county’s 251,528 registered voters, only 33 percent turned out for the off-year General Election. Of La Center’s 1,792 registered voters, fewer than 750 decided who would lead the city through upcoming issues dealing with the possible 2017 opening of a resort casino on the nearby Cowlitz Indian Reservation and the city’s plans to pay for its sewer expansion toward land adjacent to Interstate 5.
In an interview with The Reflector in October, Thornton said that, if elected mayor, he would he focus on balancing the city’s budget, expanding the city’s revenue streams and creating more jobs for people who want to live and work in La Center.
“Right now we get 72 percent of our revenue from the card rooms,” Thornton said. “We have to look at other revenue opportunities.”
During his campaign, Thornton went door-to-door and tried to meet as many La Center voters as possible. He says his “get out the vote” campaigning seems to have worked in his favor.
“I did talk to a lot of people and heard a lot of favorable comments,” Thornton said Tuesday night. “People have been walking up to me and saying they supported me, so I want to thank those voters.”
Luiz, a veteran, former police officer and retired retail sales manager who has grandchildren in the La Center School District, ran on a platform that focused on retaining La Center’s livability in the face of inevitable growth. During a campaign interview with The Reflector in October, Luiz said many of the things he would fight for – the city’s parks, safe neighborhoods and family-friendly atmosphere – were the types of things that city leaders put in place not for themselves, but for future generations.
“Honestly, some of the things that I’m pushing for now, they probably won’t happen in my lifetime, but they’ll be here for future generations,” Luiz said.
Many voters liked Luiz’ ideas – he garnered 49 percent of the vote – but the majority preferred Thornton’s approach, which emphasized a balanced operating budget that doesn’t rely on using the city’s reserves, as well as an increased tax base.
“As mayor, I would want to see the city take a more regional approach,” Thornton told The Reflector in October. “For the past few years, the city has been very narrowly focused: Get the sewer to the (Interstate 5) junction and enter into a wastewater agreement with the (Cowlitz Indian) Tribe. We need to stop being so narrowly focused and look for other opportunities – with businesses, with regional partners and, yes, with the tribe, because they are going to be our neighbors.”
Once he replaces Irish as La Center’s mayor in 2016, Thornton’s council seat will be filled by current La Center City Councilor Joe Valenzuela. Newcomer Heather Birdwell-Currey will fill Valenzuela’s former council seat, which has two years remaining. And voters re-elected City Councilor Elizabeth Cerveny – La Center’s mayor from 1997 to 2003 – to another term on the council.
Both Thornton and Luiz chose quiet nights with family and friends over election parties on the evening of the Nov. 3 General Election, and Luiz sounded cheerful, despite his loss to Thornton.
“I feel fine,” Luiz said, after the first results showed Thornton held a significant lead. “The voters have spoken and I’m satisfied with the results. I’ll rally around the new mayor.”
Luiz, who still has two years left in his city council term, said he will still be “a part of La Center politics” even without the title of mayor behind his name.
Thornton was feeling pretty good on election night and said he was “excited and humbled” by the victory, and looking forward to leading La Center into the future.
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