Victoria Woodards is leading the race to become Tacoma’s next mayor, according to early election returns posted Tuesday.
As of Tuesday night, Woodards was leading Jim Merritt by almost 4 points, or 737 votes, in the race to replace Mayor Marilyn Strickland, whose second term ends at the end of this year.
Woodards had about 52 percent of the vote Tuesday night to Merritt’s 48 percent.
She said in an interview after the results dropped that she’d prepared a speech for both possibilities: a victory or a loss.
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“I have to be honest with you, I really had no idea what was going to happen. I knew when we turned the lights off at the office this evening we gave everything we had and it was up to the Tacoma voters to decide,” Woodards said.
“On Day 1 I just want to start addressing the needs of the citizens who live here. I want to get to that list of things citizens said were important to them, and I want to begin to address those things.”
She also offered praise for her opponent.
“Jim and I ran a good race together and it doesn’t matter who people voted for in the city, I’m going to be everyone’s mayor and I want to work for everyone in the city,” she said.
Merritt did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment, but his campaign posted about the results on his Facebook page.
“While tonight’s results aren’t what we’d hoped, we are still optimistic the outcome of this race will be in favor of Jim. This race is too close to call,” the post read in part. “No matter the outcome, we are grateful to everyone who voted and to Tacoma for being willing to talk about important issues. We would like to congratulate Victoria on a campaign well run and look forward to tomorrow’s numbers!”
Woodards, 52, is a former City Councilwoman and former director of the Tacoma Urban League who lives in the South End. She left her second term on the council last December to run for mayor. It was one year before her term ended, in a nod to the city’s term limits law, which prohibits anyone from serving more than 10 years in a row in the mayor or council positions.
Merritt, 70, is a longtime architect from the North End who has been involved with many iconic Tacoma projects, including the design of Union Station and the redevelopment of the Thea Foss Waterway. He ran for mayor once before, in 2008, and was narrowly defeated by Strickland.
The two candidates come from very different backgrounds. Merritt has spent his career in the private sector, whereas Woodards spent most of hers in the public sphere and as an elected official.
But, throughout the campaign, they had similar views on many of the issues facing Tacoma.
Their starkest difference of opinion was their stance on the liquefied-natural gas plant Puget Sound Energy is building on Tacoma’s Tideflats. Woodards supports it, saying LNG is a transitional fuel that will lead port industries to a greener future. Merritt opposes it, voicing concerns about its safety and complaining about the veil of secrecy he says shrouded the permitting process.
While the candidates stayed above mudslinging, the race became increasingly divisive and vitriolic — especially on social media — as Election Day neared.
Merritt supporters blasted Woodards online and in mailers for claiming an associate’s degree from Pierce College on a 2004 application for the Metro Parks Tacoma board when she didn’t have one. Woodards backers accused Merritt of repeatedly overstating his role in the prominent Tacoma developments, especially Point Ruston, during the campaign.
A round of updated election returns will be released Wednesday afternoon. Final results will be certified by the Pierce County Auditor’s Office on Nov. 28.