Incumbents reign in area mayoral elections
By JACK COLWELL
South Bend Tribune
Mayor Stephen Luecke won big Tuesday, staving off the first serious Republican challenge to Democratic control of the mayor's office in a dozen years.
He called the victory "a positive report card" for the city, as well as for himself.
Luecke said his capture of 68 percent of the vote is an indication that South Bend residents agree with his positive view of where the city is headed, not the dismal portrayal of city conditions presented by Republican challenger Steven Bradley.
"I truly was upset at the way Mr. Bradley portrayed the city," Luecke said.
But he noted that Bradley always had been friendly personally after their frequent disagreements at joint appearances.
Bradley was gracious in concession.
"I think it's good for South Bend to have had a real race this year," Bradley said. He said he had brought up issues the city needed to debate.
The mayor received word of his victory at his home, surrounded by family members. Totals directly from polling places confirmed the big win for the mayor within a few minutes after the polls closed.
The 68 percent showing was achieved with a voter turnout slightly higher than recorded four years ago.
Percentages much smaller than Luecke achieved are oft termed landslides.
The percentage still was below the record 82.2 percent Joe Kernan received in winning four years ago and the 76.5 percent Kernan amassed in 1991.
But Kernan, the former Democratic mayor who now is lieutenant governor, ran against hapless Republican challengers who had scant funding and little support, even from their own party.
Luecke's victory ranks at least as impressive because he faced in Bradley a challenger who waged a vigorous campaign and had more funding and party support.
The mayor said he thought he had gained momentum as the campaign headed toward the finish, in part due to getting out his own "positive" message and also because Bradley's contentions began to wear thin and be rejected.
Earlier, the mayor said, he was concerned because it had seemed that "everything that could go wrong did go wrong."
He referred in particular to something no amount of campaign planning could have ever envisioned in advance — the June auto accident in which the police chief ran into a parked car after drinking.
Although he immediately removed the chief from the top police post, Luecke said the prosecutor's long investigation of the incident kept him from taking final action and enabled Bradley to hammer away at the situation.
Luecke agreed that Bradley was handed an opportunity —fair game — and took full advantage of it.
But appointment of new Chief Larry Bennett proved popular and seems to have put the police leadership issue to rest, Luecke said.
At a joyous Democratic celebration at the MR Falcon Club, the mayor told his supporters that he was particularly happy with the way South Bend residents have been "grabbing hold of their neighborhoods."
Luecke has been stressing neighborhoods since before the neighborhood issue was cool, doing so as a City Council member and before that with citizen involvement.
"This is a community that is alive and well with citizen involvement," Luecke said. "And that is what we are going to ride into the next century."
The mayor said he planned no immediate changes in his administration as he plans for a his first full four-year term. But he said he will seek ideas on new approaches, with "a brand new start for us."
This story was reprinted with the permission of the South Bend Tribune.
All News Stories for Wednesday, November 3, 1999