The battle for Burnsville's mayoral office is over, and the victor is incumbent Elizabeth Kautz, who snagged her seventh term by a margin of almost 15 points.
By 2:30 a.m. the final tallies were in: 12,379 votes for Willenburg, 16,600 for Kautz. Kautz defeated her opponent Jerry Willenburg 42.6 percent to 57.12 percent. Approximately .28 percent of the ballots cast went to write-in candidates.
A large retinue joined Kautz at Mediterranean Cruise Cafe for a post-poll party. Among them were quite a few incumbents, including School Board Members Sandra Sweep and DeeDee Currier and County Commissioner Liz Workman, all of whom retained their seats during this election.
"I'm feeling good, but I don't know how many precincts are in," Kautz said at about 10:30 p.m. when the party began to break up. "I'm very grateful for (the voters') confidence."
This campaign was a continuation of the hard-fought contest of 2008. During Kautz's first round with Willenburg he came in first during the primaries—an unprecedented upset in her long career. Ultimately, Kautz won the 2008 election, beating Willenburg by 54 percent to 46 percent, Nevertheless, the victory was hardfought and Sun Thisweek labeled the race "the toughest" of her career.
Tuesday night, Kautz said she was happy with the numbers coming in, but she was anxious to put the election behind her. If 2008 was the "toughest race" of Kautz's career, the campaign for 2012 will be remembered as the nastiest, she said.
"It's been a very unpleasant week," She said, alluding to the controversy that erupted after the arrival of a city-wide mailing alleging that Kautz had used her office to further personal interests and other ethical breaches. "I'm very humbled that the voters of Burnsville have recognized these malicious tactics for what they are and have condemned them. They are a very intelligent electorate."
The mailing was sent out by a shadowy group called the "Coalition of Better Business in Burnsville." Willenburg denied any involvement in the group and said he had nothing to do with the mailing, a statement he reiterated on Tuesday night as the first results were trickling in.
"Elizabeth is doing well. Personally, I just want it to be over with," Willenburg said at his own post-election party, a modest gathering at Buca di Beppo. "There was nothing in this campaign that didn't have my hands on it—98 percent of those campaign signs you see out there I put in the ground myself."
Nothing except the mailing, that is, he clarified. Willenburg said that until that happened he was feeling pretty good about his chances. He was hoping to capitalize on the momentum and name recognition he got from his 2008 campaign, he said, but the blowback from the mailing seems to have had an effect.
"It's disappointing," Willenburg said. "This has damaged her and me."
Willenburg said that he would probably not take another run at the mayor's office, but that he would continue to advocate for term limits in city government, a key piece of his platform.
Kautz will be on council with current colleague Mary Sherry, who came in first in the council race with 32.3 percent of the vote, and newcomer Suzanne Nguyen (23 percent).
• To see other local results, click here: Burnsville-Savage General Election Results 2012
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• To see state and federal results, click here: