PLEASANT HILL -- Tim Flaherty, who never lost his election night lead, appears likely to edge out Jim Bonato in the surprisingly tight race for the third City Council seat.

In results posted Saturday, which reflect all but a handful of uncounted mail-in ballots, Flaherty leads fellow planning commissioner Bonato by 71 votes. However, Bonato isn't giving up until the Contra Costa Elections Division counts the 23,000 remaining provisional ballots and certifies the election results Dec. 4.

"I don't look at this as final yet, not until the provisionals are counted," Bonato said. "So I have not thrown in the towel, I'm not conceding and I still hold out some hope that in the remaining ballots to be counted that it may change."

Flaherty isn't claiming victory yet either, but he believes the laws of probability are on his side.

"I am confident that the vote count and the trend of the vote count is going to continue. I don't expect it to change," he said.

As the returns trickled in early on election night, Flaherty, an attorney, was solidly in third place with about 14 percent of the vote. As the night wore on and more votes were counted, his lead over retired businessman Bonato continued to shrink.

By the time all 21 precincts had reported, Flaherty was up by 45 votes but the race was too close to call because the elections division had more than 82,000 mail-in ballots to count.

Over the next week and a half, Flaherty's lead fell to 35 votes before ticking up again. By Nov. 15, Flaherty was ahead by 60 votes. Bonato acknowledged that the trend hasn't been going his way.

"The trend doesn't look good, but geez, the difference is so small that you never know if somewhere out there if there's a pocket of votes that might make a difference," he said. "It doesn't look good, but I still want to hold out until we get more finality to the count."

Incumbent Councilman David Durant easily took first place with 6,171 votes. Ken Carlson, a Concord police officer who enjoyed strong financial backing from the Pleasant Hill Police Officers' Association, turned out to be the dark horse in the eight-candidate race.

A relative unknown before he launched his campaign, Carlson placed second with 5,544 votes. Flaherty has 4,569 votes to Bonato's 4,498.

Both men are well known in Pleasant Hill for their tenure on the Planning Commission and their community service. Flaherty, who said Bonato encouraged him to run, believed they would be serving on the council together. But as the election results revealed a real contest for the third seat, Flaherty said he was holding his breath until his lead grew to 60 votes.

"Certainly, after Saturday I've exhaled and I think that it's almost over."

Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.

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