Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Newcomer to take reins in Sun Valley

Challenger Wayne Willich ousts incumbent Jon Thorson

Express Staff Writer

Wayne Willich

Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson has been upset in his bid for re-election, according to ballot box totals reported late Tuesday night. In what was an exceptionally close race, challenger Wayne Willich beat the incumbent by 43 votes, with 265 votes going to Willich and 222 going to Thorson.

Supporters of the Willich campaign yelled "Mayor Willich" as he received a call for a comment.

"It was a pretty nice win," Willich said, trying to speak over loud congratulatory voices. "I've looked at the council members that were elected and I got a call from Nils Ribi. We think we've got a team of people here who can really make a difference for the city."

Sun Valley voters went to polls in relatively large numbers Tuesday to decide whether Thorson, a retired pharmaceutical executive, or Willich, a retired Boeing executive, would serve as mayor from 2008 to 2012.

Willich had words to share with his opponent in the race.

"I think Jon and I understood that we were going to work this thing in a professional way," Willich said. "It was tough.We both went out there and dug in. Someone had to win and someone had to lose. I am glad I ended up on this end of it. I think Jon's just a first-class guy. I'm glad I had that kind of opponent."

The race pitted Thorson's grasp of regional planning issues, including affordable housing and public transportation, against Willich's campaign, which questioned the city's use of taxpayer dollars.

Willich said his approach to campaigning was to try to meet with as many voters as he could in person. During those meetings he shared ideas about affordable housing that include an idea to create a housing trust where people can get a tax break if they put money into a fund that will help people buy in to market-rate housing. If a homeowner participating in the program decides to sell their home, the profit would be split, with a percentage going back in to the trust and a percentage going to the homeowner.

By the closing of the polls on Tuesday, the city had taken ballots from 901 registered voters, with 170 absentee ballots.

The mayor's race had a total of 487 votes, nearly 55 percent of the electorate.

Thorson had said earlier in the day that "most of the people said they had no major issues" with his tenure. Those who did have issues criticized the city's handling of recycling fees and payments totaling $125,000 in local option tax dollars for YMCA recreation services.

What exactly made for the election upset will likely come out in the coming days. However, recycling was one controversial issue.

"The solid waste ordinance was too complicated, which is why we delayed implementation," Thorson said.

Some voters, typically supporters of Willich, contested the fact that the city contributed money to the Wood River Community YMCA in Ketchum to the tune of $50,000 a year ago and $75,000 budgeted for 2007-2008.

The money for the YMCA from Sun Valley comes from local option tax money, which is allowed under Idaho law when it goes for services rendered in support of tourism.

"The bottom line is I'm just thrilled to be elected," Willich said. "I am happy the people here have confidence in me. Now, I have to get to work and make it work."

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