John Engen could hardly have looked happier Tuesday night after he was elected mayor of his hometown, beating out fellow Councilwoman Lou Ann Crowley by a 60–40 margin. Standing near the door of the Union Club with soda water and lime in hand, Engen thanked and chatted with a flood of supporters eager to greet their new mayor.
“It’s not a lifelong dream, but it’s a very cool evolution,” he grinned.
All of the Indy’s Council picks who won—and one, John Couch, who didn’t—also showed up at the Union to celebrate and breathe collective sighs of relief.
Tuesday’s race, which drew only a third of registered Missoulians to the polls, ended with three decisive wins and three tight ones. Dave Strohmaier (Ward 1), Dick Haines (Ward 5) and Marilyn Marler (Ward 6) all won handily with about 60 percent of the vote. John Hendrickson (Ward 2), Bob Jaffe (Ward 3) and Jon Wilkins (Ward 4) pulled out narrow wins in their neighborhoods.
The general bond issue to build and remodel Missoula fire stations passed overwhelmingly, with 70 percent support. And unchallenged longtime Municipal Judge Don Louden received a strong vote of support.
In the Flathead races, all of the Indy’s endorsees won: Jim Atkinson took Kalispell’s City Council’s Ward 3 seat; Shirley Jacobson, Nick Palmer and Nancy Woodruff picked up Whitefish City Council seats; and Bradley Johnson will stay on as Whitefish’s judge.
While the voters have spoken, one decision that’s truly going to impact Missoula’s Council has yet to be made. A new representative for the Ward 5 seat held by Bob Lovegrove, who recently passed away, will be appointed within the next few weeks. And, since the new Council members won’t be sworn in until January, the current Council will decide that seat’s fate for the next two years.
The shakeup on Missoula’s City Council has created a new lineup that promises an interesting, and hopefully productive, future. In terms of political leanings, there’s no clear majority reflected in either Tuesday’s races or the new Council composition. This indicates to us, and to many of the newly elected with whom we spoke, that Missoula’s still got plenty of tough, divisive issues with which to wrangle. What stands out is the unanimous promise from seat winners to bridge the ideological gaps that will inevitably arise with courtesy and cooperation. They said they heard from many constituents who, above all, hope to see their local representatives resolve issues in a civil manner. Since that’s a promise that virtually all candidates made throughout the campaign, we hope they can find ways to stay true to their words. We expect Engen’s positive leadership to be a boon to the city and the Council in this regard, and we’re eager to see him get to work.