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Hafen, Kirk advance to eight-week battle

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Richard Brian

Henderson mayoral candidate Andy Hafen holds his grandson, Logan, as he talks to his son Andrew about election results Tuesday during his campaign’s party at the Henderson Convention Center.

Updated Tuesday, April 7, 2009 | 11:53 p.m.

Election Day in Henderson

Henderson mayoral candidate Steve Kirk, right, keeps an eye on the election results with his daughters Stacie, center, and Jennifer during his campaign's results party Tuesday. Launch slideshow »

Henderson City Council members Andy Hafen and Steve Kirk will go head-to-head for the mayor’s chair after finishing first and second, respectively, in Tuesday’s municipal primary election.

Hafen led all five candidates with 36.79 percent of the vote, followed by Kirk with 31.85 percent. Former City Councilwoman Amanda Cyphers came in third with 16.34 percent, former Henderson Police Chief Mike Mayberry finished fourth with 13.27 percent and attorney Richard Sipan finished last with 1.76 percent.

Voter turnout rose slightly from the 11.07 percent level the city saw in 2007 to an unofficial tally of 12.66 percent, based on the number of mayoral votes cast. Official breakdowns of voter turnout by city were not available Tuesday night. Though turnout did increase in Henderson, it did not climb as much as election officials had hoped following the increase in voter registration for November’s presidential election.

Hafen and Kirk now have eight weeks to again make their case to voters in preparation for the June 2 general election.

Kirk said the differences between the two candidates will become clear in the coming weeks.

“I look forward to comparing and contrasting with Mr. Hafen,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a very spirited campaign.”

Kirk pointed to his years of experience in the private sector and said he would bring a business-first approach to city government.

“We talk about running government like a business,” Kirk said. “I’ve had 12 years of running a business — meeting the top line, the bottom line, and everything in between.”

Hafen, by contrast, pointed to his years of service in the public realm — as a city councilman and as a Metro Police employee — as his strength.

“I have 22 years of experience on the City Council, which is 12 more than (Kirk),” Hafen said. “I have public safety experience and I’ve got my degree in accounting, so I have that financial background.”

The biggest difference, Hafen said, is that he is retired and will give the job of mayor his full attention.

“The big advantage I have is that I have the time to do the job,” he said.

Both candidates spent election night watching returns come in surrounded by friends, family members and supporters. Hafen gathered with a couple hundred supporters, many of them family members decked out in his campaign’s bright yellow T-shirts, while a musical group, the Kid Fiddler Family Show, eased the mood in the room and exuberant supporters boldly proclaimed their support for Hafen.

“We’re going to win,” supporter Sonya Smith plainly stated after the early and mail ballots had been counted.

Smith said she is a longtime resident and all her children and grandchildren were born in the city and still live in Henderson. She said she supports Hafen because he understands the quality of life that has kept her family in Henderson for three generations — one that includes a good parks system and a strong local economy.

“I’d like (my grandchildren) to be able to stay here and not feel like they have to leave,” Smith said.

Over in Green Valley, where Kirk gathered with friends and family members at a private residence, the mood was similarly upbeat as Kirk and his supporters eagerly watched the election returns come in.

Supporter Bob Sulliman said Kirk won him over when he voted against a controversial $120,000 lobbying contract that the City Council awarded to former Henderson Police Chief Richard Perkins earlier this year.

“(Kirk) was the only one of the council people to vote against that lucrative, unconscionable, obscene contract,” Sulliman said.

With a background like that on fiscal issues, Sulliman said, Kirk would be the best steward for the city’s struggling finances.

“With a person like Steve Kirk at the helm, Henderson will continue to prosper,” he said.

During the campaign, the mayoral race shaped up as a referendum on the state of Henderson, as three of the candidates — Hafen, Kirk and Cyphers — made appeals based on their experience within city government and two — Mayberry and Sipan — painted themselves as political outsiders with a fresh take on the city’s challenges.

With the support coming back in favor of Hafen and Kirk, voters seemed to express support for how the city has handled its recent fiscal challenges, but whoever wins, there will be much work to be done.

The first challenge for the next mayor will be keeping the city’s battered budget intact as Henderson weathers the recession.

The City Council has already cut more than $50 million from the current year’s budget and made millions in cuts in tentative budgets for the next four years. And steadily declining tax revenue has forced the council to leave the door open for additional cuts.

The next mayor also likely will have a lasting impression on Henderson’s development. Developers of major mixed-use projects on former industrial lands in east Henderson and projects in the recently annexed land in west Henderson will be asking for city approval in the coming years.

Regardless of what happens in the general election, Hafen and Kirk will be working together, as both men still have two years left on their current and final City Council term. Each candidate said they would have no problem working with the other, regardless of the outcome.

“The city is bigger than any one person,” Kirk said. “Irrespective of what happens, I expect us both to continue working together for the good of the city.”

Hafen said, “Steve and I have worked well together for 10 years, and we’ll continue to do so.”

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