The businessman who spearheaded the development of much of southwest Bakersfield will now represent it on the City Council.
Bruce Freeman captured the Ward 5 Bakersfield City Council seat in Tuesday night’s special election to replace the late Jeff Tkac with 62 percent of the vote as of Wednesday morning.
Carpenter and union leader Ryan Nance had 32.7 percent and stay-at-home dad Noel Pineo 5.2 percent.
The gap between Freeman and Nance was 1,515 votes.
“I’m glad to move on to being a City Council member and not being a candidate,” Freeman said after learning about the number of uncounted ballots left. “It’s just a city council election, there was still drama.”
He reiterated comments he’d made on the campaign trail, saying he will dive into the details of how the city works and discover what can be done to make Bakersfield an attractive place to do business.
Nance saw the writing on the wall early Tuesday night but waited until all the votes had been tallied to concede the fight.
“I send my congratulations to Bruce Freeman,” he said. “I would commit to him, as I do to all our leaders, that I would pray for him.”
Tuesday’s voting ended a contest that began with a death.
It was necessitated by the suicide of newly elected Bakersfield City Councilman Jeff Tkac on Jan. 5.
Councilmembers, faced with filling Tkac’s seat with someone who’d serve a nearly full four-year term, opted to hold a special election.
Nance, who finished the November 2016 election in third place close behind incumbent Harold Hanson, immediately jumped into the contest.
Hanson opted not to run. A smattering of little-known political newbies, including Pineo, considered it.
Freeman, who as president of developer Castle & Cooke spearheaded many of the housing and commercial projects in Ward 5, entered the race and only Nance and Pineo remained in.
Freeman said he didn’t see any candidates with the qualifications to do the job so he threw his hat in the ring.
Nance struck hard, capitalizing on the fact Freeman had moved his voter registration and business address to his second home on an island in the Newport Beach harbor after he retired from Castle & Cooke in 2014 to claim Freeman was a carpetbagger.
When Freeman said he lived in Bakersfield the whole time, Nance’s political team asked the Kern County District Attorney’s office to investigate whether Freeman had committed voter fraud by living in Bakersfield and voting in Newport Beach.
The DA declined to prosecute.
Freeman’s supporters fired their own salvos back at Nance, using his role as president of the local carpenter’s union to paint him as a shill for large labor unions and their money.
Pineo made his case for election by refusing to accept any campaign money, saying he was the only candidate who hadn’t been bought by someone.
Political observers said the make-up of Ward 5, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats substantially, was more welcoming to Freeman, whose business background and criticisms of city employee pension costs plays well with local conservatives.
Nance, who is also a Republican, touted his working-class background and three generations of deep roots in Kern County.
On Election Night, Freeman said he will also be focusing on addressing crime in his ward.
He said there’s been a number of robberies recently where robbers have jumped into gated communities, robbed the affluent homes and left before police arrived.
He also said he plans to meet with Community Development and Public Works, among other departments, to work as a mediator for businesses to encourage job growth.
“I think we need to work as a team — doing a rebranding of the city to the outside,” Freeman said.
And he will be in good company. Mayor Karen Goh, Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan, and Ward 3 Councilman Ken Weir were all at his campaign watch party.
Sullivan said she came because she is a conservative and Freeman is a conservative.
Weir, who is also chairman of the Kern County Republican Party, said he was there to support the party’s endorsed candidate.