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Tuesday was not a good day to be a Rapid City Council incumbent.

Lloyd LaCroix and Patti Martinson fell by considerable margins in Tuesday’s municipal election, the first time in recent memory every incumbent facing a challenger found him or herself on the losing end of the vote.

“There is a desire to see fresh faces, start seeing some changeover,” said Gary Brown, who unseated Martinson in Ward 1. “People like to see some new leadership and some new changes.”

Jordan Mason, who will face another new face, John Roberts, in a runoff for the seat in Ward 4, said incumbents are being associated with “the way things are going.”

“It’s an anti-incumbent year overall,” Mason said. “Everyone is aware that our country, our state and even our local government are heading in a direction that isn’t for the people anymore. People are looking for someone who is willing to sit down and listen to them.”

LaCroix, the council president, finished third to challengers Mason and Roberts. Martinson, who unseated an incumbent in 2008, only garnered 33 percent of the vote to Brown’s 67 percent.

And while candidates on both sides of the outcome said there was no single factor that led to the ouster, many agreed the results proved Rapid City isn’t immune to the anti-incumbent tide rising nationwide. 

During the campaign, both Mason and Roberts made big issue of LaCroix’s vote in favor of censuring Alderman Sam Kooiker, an action they argued flew in the face of the will of the people.

Kooiker ran unopposed in Ward 2 on Tuesday, the only incumbent to keep his seat this election cycle. The other two, Karen Gundersen Olson in Ward 3 and Malcom Chapman in Ward 5, did not seek re-election.

Mason said he was not surprised the censure resonated strongly with voters, because in his mind, it amounted to taking away Kooiker’s freedom of speech.

“When we’re talking about reprimanding someone for their speech, that’s the definition of censor,” Mason said.

LaCroix, who was seeking his third term on council, admitted the censure vote did affect his re-election bid, but he said the issue was more complicated than his challengers made it out to be.

“The censure wasn’t trying to quiet someone for asking questions,” LaCroix said. “The questions are still being asked, tough questions.”

More than anything, LaCroix said, he felt he got caught in the “perfect storm” of anti-government sentiment and tough economic times.

“When things are good, people are content. When things are bad, they want someone to do something about it,” LaCroix said. “They want to believe in something, that something’s going to change.

“It’s easy to say, ‘We’ll get someone new in and they’ll change things.’”

In a post-election interview Tuesday, Martinson said she also suspected her incumbent status hurt her. She did not return a call for further comment Wednesday.

But unlike the Ward 4 race, Brown said he believed the Kooiker censure had little impact in Ward 1. Martinson was one of three aldermen who voted against the public reprimand.

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Brown said his platform of economic development and infrastructure spending “just resonated a lot better with the people in Ward 1” than Martinson’s focus on social issues.

“When I was knocking door to door, the questions I got constantly were not about the censure of Sam Kooiker, but what are you going to bring to the south side of the city?” Brown said. “Do you support Wal-Mart? Do you support bringing more retail?”

Ron Weifenbach, the other Ward 1 alderman, agreed that Brown’s credentials as a longtime businessman helped him in a year when many voters were focused on better jobs and better roads.

But he said the censure did affect Ward 1 residents’ perception of how the current city council operates, a perception that probably hurt Martinson’s re-election chances.

“They want to see us all paddling the boat in the direction that’s best for Rapid City,” Weifenbach said. “If it takes having different personalities on the council, that’s what it takes.

“They think (the council) can function better.”

Roberts, the other candidate in the Ward 4 runoff, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Contact Emilie Rusch at 394-8453 or emilie.rusch@rapidcityjournal.com.

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