David Berger pushed two issues hard in the final weeks of the mayoral campaign: experience matters, and there are a lot of good things happening in our city.
It’s likely why he will be adding another four years to his record 28 years of service as Lima’s mayor. By talking up the positive, Berger was able to cast Keith Cheney as a negative candidate and slipped away with a 53- to 47-percent victory.
It was a sweet win for Berger, who is fond of saying he looks at every election as a grade card on his performance. He passed once again, with the majority of voters recognizing Lima’s improved job picture, the development that’s taken place downtown and Berger’s work over the years in helping secure jobs at the refinery and Joint Systems Manufacturing Center.
But this victory didn’t come easily.
Berger was put on the hot seat like never before. His defeat of Cheney was the city’s closest mayoral race since 1985, when Gene Joseph beat Harry Moyer by four votes.
Berger trailed Cheney by 2 percentage points coming out of the three-person primary in May, beating Cheney in just two of seven wards, the fourth and sixth.
He turned that around Tuesday night by taking five wards. His only losses were in the 1st and 2nd wards. The voter turnout was more than twice that of the May primary, with 30 percent of Lima’s registered voters casting a ballot compared to 14 percent in the primary.
While he can celebrate today, Berger’s victory comes with high expectations.
The No. 1 message voters sent this election is they’re tired of Lima’s crime problem. Be it during a debate or a discussion with council candidates, there was a familiar note sounded — Lima needs more police officers on the street.
Cheney pushed that message hard and came within 406 votes of becoming Lima’s next mayor. For the last 20 years, every opponent Berger has faced also pushed the same agenda.
Lima lacks a tough on crime image, and changing it begins with the person sitting in the mayor’s chair.
Berger has accomplished plenty in his 28 years in office, but being known as a crime fighter is one job yet to be checked off his list of successes.
This election also came with its political damage.
The mayor made a decision to run a television advertisement that attempted to convince voters he had the support of two top local members of the Republican Party as well as a local businessman. All three of them were backing Cheney.
The county prosecutor, sheriff and a board member of Greater Lima Region Inc. also were supporters of Cheney.
He avoided having six of seven Council seats held by Cheney supporters. Still, four seats on City Council will be filled by people who believed Lima had a better candidate for mayor. Jon Neeper, newly elected in the 7th Ward, joins 2nd Ward Councilman Sam McLean, 4th Ward Councilor Rebecca Kreher and 6th Ward Councilman Derry Glenn as council members who have expressed concerns about the direction the city has gone under Berger.
These are all people the mayor will need to work with. His willingness to reach out to them and mend fences will play a role in the city’s progress the next four years.