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ELECTION:

Hafen victorious in see-saw battle for Henderson mayor

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Justin M. Bowen

Andy Hafen celebrates his win Tuesday night with his grandson, Logan Hafen, after edging out Steve Kirk in the race for Henderson mayor.

Updated Tuesday, June 2, 2009 | 11:14 p.m.

Henderson mayoral race

Andy Hafen answers reporters' questions at his election party at the Henderson Convention Center Tuesday night.  Hafen defeated Steve Kirk by 45 votes to win the race for Henderson mayor. Launch slideshow »
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Steve Kirk

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Arthur A. "Andy" Hafen

Although Steve Kirk led at one time by as many as 82 votes, fellow Henderson City Council member Andy Hafen rallied in the end and won Tuesday’s race for Henderson mayor by only 45 votes out of 19,355 cast.

With all of Henderson’s 15 vote centers reporting by about 9:40 p.m., combined with the early vote, Hafen won 9,700 to 9,655, according to unofficial figures from the Clark County Elections Department. That was 50.18 percent to 49.88 percent -- or a razor-thin difference of 0.24 percent.

“Oh my gosh, I wish I could (explain),” Hafen said of the moment when the final returns showed him overtaking Kirk. “I don’t even know if I could explain it. I was really surprised at the small margin. You know, 45 votes. I was just relieved it was over.”

At the Henderson Multigenerational Center, where Kirk and his supporters gathered to watch the returns come in, the final results replaced the confident optimism that had abounded just moments before with stunned silence.

Just an hour earlier, with nine of 15 vote centers reporting, Kirk had overcome Hafen’s 110-vote lead from early voting to go ahead by 82 votes, and he and his supporters were confident the returns would continue to trend in their favor.

“I was a little shaken,” Kirk said. “We were up by 82, then we were down by 45 votes in one fell swoop.”

Kirk said he had yet to talk to his advisers about the possibility of requesting a recount.

As it stands, Hafen is scheduled to be sworn in at the June 16 City Council meeting. First on his list, he said, will be the city’s ongoing budget shortfall. Henderson has trimmed nearly $60 million from its current budget and is preparing for additional cuts if tax revenues continue to decline.

“The budget crunch we’re in is first on my mind,” he said. “It’s going to be paramount. But again, I’m going to be optimistic and I’m confident that we’re going to get through this and that when we emerge, we’ll be stronger than ever.”

Before that, however, Hafen said his first order of business would be to begin taking down his campaign signs.

“I’ve already lined up three crews and we’re going to take down my road signs tomorrow,” he said. He said all of the smaller ones should be gone Wednesday, and the larger A-frame signs should follow by the end of the week.

Also on the to-do list for both Hafen and Kirk is to mend their relationship, which took some hits as the campaign took a negative turn in the final days of the race. Hafen questioned Kirk’s anti-tax increase views by pulling records that showed Kirk has donated to pro-tax increase causes. Kirk responded by campaigning with a disabled Henderson resident who said Hafen ignored his requests to get a wheelchair ramp cut into the curb at an intersection near his house.

Hafen said he had never heard of the man. Now that the race is over, he says he is confident the two can move past their differences.

“Steve called me up and congratulated me and I thought that was really big of him,” Hafen said.

Asked if he could go back to working with Hafen, Kirk was cordial.

“Sure,” he said. “The city is bigger than any one man. We’ll move past it and we’ll be fine.”

Hafen had said that based on all of the pre-election polling, his campaign staff was expecting him to win by 200 votes when all the votes are tallied.

After taking the early lead, he admitted he was expecting a nailbiter.

“I’m as nervous as could be,” Hafen had said when he led by 110 votes shortly before 8 p.m. while at his election party at the Henderson Convention Center, where about 200-plus people gathered. The first election day returns showed Kirk reducing that lead to 62 votes. The next update showed him taking the lead by 82 votes.

Hafen’s recovery in the final minutes of the race was surely a surprise to Kirk, who seemed confident after taking the lead.

Kirk had credited the shift to a well-organized get-out-the-vote effort on election day. He said he had eight people working the phones all day. Then he had 30 off-duty Henderson firefighters and 15 other volunteers walking through the neighborhood, encouraging people to vote and giving them a ride if they needed one to the election centers.

“It was the election day surge that put us over the top, no question. But you can’t discount the efforts that we did all along,” Kirk said. About 8:40 p.m. right before he went ahead, Kirk told a supporter “We have this won.” He explained that his campaign had a similar election day surge during the April primary, so they expected similar results today.

In a race between two candidates that have been working together on the City Council for a decade with differing votes on only a handful of items, Hafen and Kirk had their hands full during the campaign season trying to draw distinctions.

Kirk, a Republican, sought to distance himself from Hafen on land-use issues, saying he is more neighborhood-friendly in development decisions.

While Kirk worked to draw philosophical differences between himself and Hafen, Hafen candidly proclaimed that there was little philosophical difference between the two, and that his 22 years of experience and time available to devote to the job as a retiree made him the better choice.

Though the races are officially non-partisan, both candidates received help from local party organizations and clubs, who frequently filled out the ranks of the campaign’s walkers.

Hafen and Kirk also split the endorsements -- Kirk captured the endorsement of the Henderson Firefighters Association, while Hafen received the endorsement of the two unions that represent Henderson’s police officers and supervisors.

And while Mayor James B. Gibson declined to endorse either candidate, both campaigns used glowing references from him in their literature.

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