By Brandi Makuski
Results in the Portage County Executive race put John Pavelski in a narrow lead against Eric Olson.
The results came in at about 1:06 a.m. on April 6, with tallies from Amherst the last to arrive in the county clerk’s office.
Unofficial numbers put John Pavelski with a total of 8,557 votes to Eric Olson’s 8,533 votes. A difference of 24 votes separates the two. The county’s canvassing committee will certify the votes early next week.
Tuesday night, Olson, who carried a larger piece of Stevens Point—3,253 votes, compared to Pavelski’s 1,986 votes cast by city residents—watched the results come in with several of his supporters from a banquet room at Amber Grill, 1001 Amber Ave. in Stevens Point.
Olson and company were in high spirits and several fellow candidates came out to show their support, along with City Council President Meleesa Johnson—who represents the city’s 5th District, which was not Tuesday’s ballot.
Pavelski and his supporters, as well as other local candidates, were gathered at Sky Club, 2202 Post Rd. in Plover. Pavelski and his group, which included Stevens Point District 6 candidate Ron Carlson, who ran unopposed for that seat, were cautiously watching as numbers filed in on Tuesday night.
Attendees in both camps expressed confidence but said they couldn’t guess how the night’s results would actually turn out. Pavelski and Olson were neck-and-neck throughout the evening, with a high of about 150 votes separating the two early Tuesday night.
But the two candidates couldn’t be more different. According to financial reporting documents filed by the candidates, Olson outraised Pavelski, $17,027 to $8,040, respectively.
Olson was publicly endorsed by labor union groups, conservation and water organizations, the Portage Co. Democratic Party, and Rep. Katrina Shankland, among others.
During his campaign, Olson said he would implement “radical transparency” in county government, and has been a staunch supporter of preserving the Portage Co. Health Care Center, keeping courthouse and jail functions in the city’s Downtown District, and reducing county government’s carbon footprint with the expansion of sustainable energy practices.
Olson has also argued that Portage Co. should keep the Executive position in place. Some in local government have argued the position, which was installed in 2006, is unnecessary.
Pavelski has said throughout his campaign that he isn’t convinced the Executive position is a necessary one, and he may seek to cut it. He said he also may consider reorganizing certain county committees with overlapping functions.
During his campaign, Pavelski repeatedly stated that he never sought endorsements from any group because the position was a nonpartisan one, though he did garner public support from the Portage Co. Republican Party. Pavelski was criticized by some on social media for not refusing that endorsement.
Pavelski has also placed a priority on law enforcement and emergency management functions and plans to bring a “constant improvement culture” to county offices by eliminating waste and improving efficiency. He plans to maintain a balanced budget and seek public-private partnerships where ever possible.
Early Wednesday morning, Pavelski said he intends to maintain independence and avoid special interest groups while in office.
“I’m kind of numb. I’m really glad for the community because it’s a community win,” Pavelski told the Metro Wire by phone at about 1:30 a.m. “When I see as hard as people worked at the grassroots level, and then I see a political juggernaut on the other side and what they were trying to do…I mean, they probably outspent me by three-to-one.”
Pavelski said his victory was proof that county residents are seeking change.
“People who thought their voice didn’t matter are starting to see that isn’t the case,” he said. “And I’m really happy for the community because I think people are getting involved and I’m excited for what’s going to start to take place. I spent much of my campaign trying to figure out how to run a county; my opponent was trying to figure out how to get votes. I feel like a racehorse ready for the gates to open. I have no agenda; my agenda is serving the people. It’s simple.”
A message seeking comment from Olson was not immediately returned.