After nearly two years of high-profile controversies, Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman appeared to be headed to defeat Tuesday in his pursuit of a third term as the town's elected leader.
John Lewis, information technology director of the Apollo Group, was headed into a likely runoff election with a resounding lead in the primary over Town Councilman Don Skousen.
In unofficial results, Lewis had 7,379 votes, or almost 41 percent of the votes cast. He would need to get more than 50 percent of the ballots cast to avoid a second contest in the May 19 general election.
Skousen came in a distant second with 20.4 percent of the vote, or 3,667 votes. Berman, who did not return calls seeking comment, held third place with 16.3 percent of the vote, or 2,928 votes.
The Maricopa County Recorder's Office reported that 18,030 votes had been cast for mayor.
Bringing up the rest of the mayor's race was former Town Councilman Dave Petersen with 13.1 percent of the vote, Arizona Cardinals executive Adam Turner with 7 percent, college student Eric Hurley with 2 percent and 25 write-ins, less than 1 percent.
Tuesday's returns include most early ballots mailed to Town Hall and all the votes cast on Election Day. Still to be counted are any early and provisional ballots dropped off at the polls Tuesday. The state's permanent early voting list has more than 33,000 Gilbert residents on it.
Lewis noted Tuesday night he entered the mayor's race relatively late, filing nominating signatures shortly before the December deadline.
"As someone who had no political experience, I did the only thing I knew to do, which was to get people involved. And hundreds of people got involved," Lewis said by phone Tuesday, adding it is "an exciting night."
Skousen, who originally planned to retire from politics this year before jumping into the mayor's race, said it "looks like we're going to have to schedule a campaign."
He said he was pleased by his results and impressed by Lewis' numbers.
"I just think that I've been around longer than anyone else, and I have the most complete record of anybody who was running, but John obviously mobilized a lot of people to work for him," Skousen said.
While Turner's numbers were disappointing, he and his wife welcomed a new baby girl on Election Day. Kate Turner was born at Chandler Regional Hospital at 9 p.m., weighing 7 pounds 4 ounces.
Turner said it was a day of celebration, despite the loss.
"This election has been such a great learning experience and I'm so grateful to all of my supporters who have helped me throughout the campaign," he said. "My number one supporter was my wife and I can't thank her enough for knocking on doors with me even though she was 8 months pregnant."
Berman pressed on with campaigning for a third elected term after nearly two years of controversy, cumulating last year in a county investigation into a domestic violence case. He was never charged.
He ran on Gilbert's record of residential satisfaction and a relatively strong financial situation compared to many Valley cities in the recession. Even so, the town laid off 22 development services employees recently, and officials say they need to cut spending by $8.5 million before the new fiscal year begins July 1.
Judging by returns, it appears about 75 percent of the votes came from early ballots, so those residents who voted at the polls Tuesday didn't have many lines to wait in.
Lewis said much of his support came from southern Gilbert, but interviews of voters coming out of the Val Vista Lakes clubhouse on the north side of town showed he got a lot of support there, too.
Joni Long, voting at the clubhouse, said she voted for Lewis because her children had gone to school with some of his children and she liked what she knew about his background, including business experience and his work with an interfaith council.
"Gilbert needs change and he can take care of it," she said. "He's young enough but still has a lot of business experience."
Gary Grossman, also voting at the clubhouse, said he voted for Berman because he felt he'd done a good job as mayor and that the criticism of him has been overblown, particularly from rival Dave Petersen, a former town councilman and one-time ally of Berman's.
"More than anything, it was Petersen who convinced me to vote for Berman," he said.