After a long and sometimes quite personal campaign, former Rapid City police chief Steve Allender ousted two-term incumbent Sam Kooiker in the city's mayoral election Tuesday.
Allender received 54 percent of the votes to Kooiker's 46 percent. The actual vote tally was 8,538 for Allender to 7,312 for Kooiker, a difference of 1,226 votes.
Allender will serve a 2-year term as the city's full-time strong mayor, which is like a city manager or administrator in other cities.
Allender celebrated his victory at a jovial election night gathering of supporters at the Adoba Eco Hotel.
"It’s a good moment," Allender said. "I'm proud of these voters of Rapid City to see through all the negative campaigning that took place and to study the issues and to make a good, sound decision."
Kooiker, who looked sunburned and exhausted Tuesday night from last-minute campaigning and sign-waving, said he does not know what he'll do next, except that he'd like to take up fishing again. His election night gathering was at the Howard Johnson hotel.
"The people have spoken and I accept the results, and it’s been a privilege to serve," Kooiker said.
His proudest accomplishment, Kooiker said, was his leadership role in organizing the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Rapid City's devastating 1972 flood.
Kooiker and Allender spoke by phone around 10 p.m. after the final results were known, and Kooiker said he pledged to assist with a smooth transition of power. Allender's two-year term is scheduled to begin July 6.
In their separate interviews with the Journal, both men said their immediate focus will be on the city's next annual budget, which will soon be finalized.
Allender, 53, is a longtime former police officer who retired last year as chief. Kooiker, 41, served a pair of 2-year terms as mayor.
It was a race between opponents who knew each other well. Allender was police chief when Kooiker became mayor in 2011, and Allender continued in that role until he retired last year.
Kooiker publicly praised Allender during those three years on several occasions, including Allender’s retirement in May 2014.
But Allender was only about 10 months into retirement when, in March of this year, he announced his candidacy for mayor against his former boss. During the campaign, Allender revealed that the two had clashed regularly while Allender was police chief.
The tension was perhaps inevitable given the contrasts in their leadership styles. Kooiker, a seasoned politician, characterizes his philosophy as one based on listening and relationship-building. Allender, who never previously sought elected office, has a reputation as a blunt straight-talker who values action over words.
In numerous debates, each candidate promoted his own approach as the better one. They also disagreed on a broad range of issues.
Allender accused Kooiker of injecting politics into the everyday management of the city and said Kooiker bungled the public relations aspect of a proposed $180 million addition and renovation at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, which was supported by both candidates but was rejected by nearly two-thirds of voters in a March special election. Allender also claimed Kooiker was ineffectual in the face of local economic trends that lagged progress elsewhere in South Dakota.
Kooiker disputed that description of the local economy and promoted his recent accomplishments as mayor. Those included, Kooiker said, streamlining government by eliminating half of the city's boards and committees, putting the Civic Center expansion proposal on the ballot to ensure public involvement, and reducing garbage rates by 8 percent. The drop in garbage rates followed Kooiker's dogged pursuit of justice in an alleged fee-reduction conspiracy at the city landfill, which ended in a $375,000 civil judgment against a private garbage hauler but failed to produce criminal convictions.
Race was a persistent issue in the campaign, but did not appear to gain traction among many voters. Allender faced scrutiny for old allegations against him by Glen Yellow Robe, a former colleague on the police force. Allender admitted participating in what he called good-natured "insult humor" as a younger officer in the early 1990s, but Yellow Robe claimed he suffered racial discrimination. A judge sided with Allender in 2012 and dismissed Yellow Robe's lawsuit.
Kooiker, who sometimes wears a star-patterned bolo tie given to him by a Native American friend, used the Yellow Robe allegations to criticize Allender. The topic dominated a debate at Oglala Lakota College in front of dozens of Native Americans.
Allender has said the focus on the Yellow Robe allegations was divisive, and he reiterated that concern Tuesday night while discussing what he considered to be negative campaigning by Kooiker.
"It possibly served to divide the community a little more, and that's unfortunate," Allender said, "but we're starting out now and we're looking forward, not back."
Campaign finance reports filed about a week before the election showed the total cost of the race at that point was about $94,000, with Allender raising about $52,000 and Kooiker raising about $42,000, which for Kooiker was an effort that lagged his two most recent mayoral campaigns. The candidates must file a post-election campaign finance report by Aug. 1.
When Allender is sworn in next month, it will close a long current run in city government for Kooiker, who began serving on the city's Planning Commission in 2001, was elected to the City Council in 2002 and continued to serve on the council until he was elected mayor in 2011.