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Few cities in California have been as badly battered as Hercules. The financial downturn and past city officials' greed, corruption, nepotism and ineptitude left the city on the edge of bankruptcy.

During the past two years, voters cleaned house, ousting four council members while a fifth one resigned. The voters deserve enormous credit for their actions.

Two replacements were elected in the November 2010 election, and three were picked in the June 2011 recall election.

The five new members last fall hired a new city manager who has helped them begin righting the sinking ship. It's a huge task.

The city operates with a workforce 34 percent smaller than five years ago. It also has about $12 million of one-time debt that must soon be paid off. To do that, Hercules officials are trying to liquidate three city-owned parcels. It must be done, and the council deserves credit for making tough decisions.

At the same time, the three council members selected in the recall election to finish out the terms of deposed predecessors must stand for re-election on Nov. 6 to full terms if they want to continue serving.

All three are seeking re-election, along with four challengers. We endorse two of the incumbents, Dan Romero and Bill Wilkins, along with challenger Bill Kelly. We believe they provide the best combination for salvaging the city while restoring integrity to city government.

Romero, an insurance agent, 23-year city resident and citizen watchdog for years, helped expose the past corruption. As a council member, he has proved himself a solid leader with good financial judgment.

Wilkins worked in local government for 35 years, much of the time for city redevelopment agencies. When we endorsed him during the recall election, we predicted his keen understanding of the city's finances and redevelopment problems would be a huge asset. He has far exceeded our expectations.

We decline to endorse the third incumbent, Gerard Boulanger. He won his seat in the recall election in part by lying about his past political experience and his education in his native France. We learned of his deceit just before the recall election. As we said then, he should have resigned once elected. He refused. So now voters should right the wrong.

Of the four other candidates, Kelly is clearly the best pick. He, like all the challengers, criticizes council decisions to sell the three properties. But he stands out as the most thoughtful and reasonable of the naysayers.

We think the challengers are wrong. The pending deals are imperfect, but the city lacks optimal options when it must unload property under difficult market conditions. These are tough times for Hercules residents and elected leaders. They need to work cooperatively and recognize financial realities if they want to return the city to normalcy.

We think Romero, Wilkins and Kelly offer the best hope of that.