The crowd erupted in cheers Tuesday night at the Grower's Pub in Salinas, where retired police detective Joe Gunter and candidate for mayor held his election night party.
Gunter, 65, got off to a comfortable lead in early results, ahead of sitting Councilman Sergio Sanchez, his closest contender, by more than 24 percentage points.
"I feel really good," Gunter said after the first results were announced about 9 p.m. "It was a lot of work. People went out and voted and that's what really counts."
Trailing behind were community activist Margaret Serna-Bonetti and real estate broker Rick Phinney, each with about 4 percent of the vote. Dentist Hla Myaing was getting about 2 percent of the vote.
Although there was no heir apparent to outgoing Mayor Dennis Donohue, who announced earlier in the year he would not be seeking re-election, Gunter has been considered the favorite by local leaders, especially with the backing and financial support of the Salinas Valley Leadership Group.
In the City Council's District 1 race, Salinas Valley Leadership candidate Josh Kuzmics was trailing Jose Castañeda, a controversial politician in the Alisal neighborhood. In a three-way race, Castañeda was ahead with more than half of the counted votes, even though he reported receiving no campaign contributions and spending no money.
Margie Wiebusch was trailing Castañeda by nearly 22 percentage points, according to the Wednesday morning update from the elections office. The Monterey County District Attorney's Office reportedly has opened an investigation of Wiebusch for alleged campaign violations.
At her election party at the Labor Council in Salinas, Wiebusch said Castañeda falsely accused her of not personally gathering signatures for getting on the ballot.
In the race for District 4, Councilwoman Gloria De La Rosa enjoyed a sizable lead in a three-way race over Steve Malvini, a real estate broker, and Michael Scharen, a print shop manager.
De La Rosa was holding court at the Labor Council, where supporters cheered for her and Wiebusch. Both were endorsed by most labor organizations in Salinas.
Councilwoman Jyl Lutes was also holding a steady lead against challenger Robert Wallace, who said he was not campaigning for health reasons. She was leading by more than 17 percentage points.
Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 753-6755 or firstname.lastname@example.org.