Jaime Kinder

Democratic Meadville mayor candidate Jaime Kinder talks with voters near Grace United Methodist Church on Tuesday morning.

Dinosaurs may be extinct, but Democrasaurus Rex is alive and well. Indeed, the inflatable dinosaur costume that serves as mascot for the Vote for Meadville organization reigned supreme over Democratic primaries in the city Tuesday.

Unofficial results posted to the Crawford County Voter Services webpage showed Jaime Kinder, the Vote for Meadville candidate for mayor, leading with 68 percent of 716 votes cast on Election Day. The unofficial results did not include absentee and mail-in votes.

Reached after the results from all nine city precincts had been posted, Kinder said the results in the Democratic primary were the product of a “collaborative effort.”

“There were a lot of people working very hard to get people who care on City Council,” she said. “People are ready to be listened to and to get their ideas heard. Ultimately, people are ready for a change.”

If the unofficial results hold up after mail-in and absentee ballots are tabulated, the change would be significant: incumbent LeRoy Stearns has been mayor since 2016 and served continuously on City Council since 1998. He had not lost an election since his first run for council in the mid-1990s, he said.

Stearns did not concede the race, however, saying he remained optimistic “until I’m finally told that I lost.”

“I don’t think that can be made up,” he said regarding the 487-227 lead Kinder had forged in Tuesday’s in-person voting, “but we’ll wait and see about the absentees and mail-ins and see where the numbers come in.”

If the final results remain unchanged, Stearns said, “The voters made their decision and we’ll work with it and move forward.”

In the Democratic primary race for two seats on City Council, Vote for Meadville candidates Gretchen Myers and Jack Harkless had 491 and 413 votes, respectively. Newcomer Andrew Herbstritt received 238 votes while incumbent Sean Donahue garnered 206 votes in his quest for a third term. As in the mayor’s race, these unofficial totals do not include absentee or mail-in ballots.

The Republican council primary featured only two candidates seeking the two available ballot spots for November. Incumbent Jim Roha received 591 votes and former council member Nancy Mangilo Bittner got 508. Both will appear on the ballot for the general election.

But the real action in city politics Tuesday was on the Democratic side, where two blocs of candidates faced off. Mayoral candidate Kinder was joined by council candidates Myers and Harkless on the Vote for Meadville platform, while Stearns campaigned with Herbstritt and Donahue.

Stearns and Donahue emphasized their experience during the race while Herbstritt stressed his connection to the city through his role as a Meadville Area Middle School teacher and coach over the past 13 years.

Kinder waged a collaborative campaign with council candidates Harkless, who previously ran for council in 2019, and Myers, running in her first election. The trio’s campaign featured similarly themed signs that notably abandoned the traditional Democratic donkey in favor of a short-armed, sharp-toothed dinosaur.

The three candidates ran on a three-plank platform plugging safe and affordable housing, a more open and participatory government, and investment in public spaces. Kinder in particular also emphasized the need for new municipal leadership in a bid to challenge the value of Stearns’ experience.

Vote for Meadville was coming off a successful 2019 campaign in which a similarly branded collaborative campaign by Autumn Vogel and Larry McKnight led to the defeat of two Republican incumbents.

For Myers, the key was old-fashioned door knocking, and lots of it.

“We made it a point to talk to a lot of people and find out what their concerns were. I really do think that was the tipping point,” she said. “We need to keep up that momentum — that idea that people’s voices come first and they should be integrated into any decision we make as a council.”

Kinder was excited about the primary win but remained focused on the general election.

“We’re always looking ahead,” she said. “Our work isn’t done. We will still be knocking on doors, talking to people and working to get people involved.”

While the candidates with the dinosaur mascot won the day in the Democratic primaries, Stearns' career as mayor may not yet be extinct.

With 125 write-in votes cast for mayor on the Republican side on Tuesday and with absentee and mail-in votes still to be counted, it’s possible that if Stearns took the preponderance of those votes he could qualify as the Republican candidate for mayor.

“Wow, I didn’t think about that — interesting,” he said of the possibility. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at mcrowley@meadvilletribune.com.

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