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Challengers fare well in Sunnyside primary election races

The typical case of incumbents prevailing easily in a primary election isn't the situation in Sunnyside today, as two city council veterans are facing stiff challenges. According to the latest count in yesterday's primary election, Sunnyside City Council, Dist. 3 incumbent Don Vlieger is trailing challenger Spencer Martin 50-47, and leads Victor Ochoa by just three votes. In a primary, only the top two vote-getters advance to the general election ballot in November. "My results are pretty much what I expected," says Vlieger, who serves as deputy mayor. "I got 40 percent of the vote in this district four years ago." Percentages as of press time show Martin with 35, Vlieger with 33 and Ochoa with 31 percent of the vote. If current results hold and Vlieger advances to the primary, he says his message will stay the same. "I'm going to keep doing everything I can to make sure this is as safe a community as it can be." As of press time, there are still 25 votes to count in the Dist. 3 race. That's according to Kathy Fisher, Yakima County's election manager. Though she has assured her place on the November ballot, the other Sunnyside council incumbent in yesterday's primary, Theresa Hancock, is also facing a tough challenge. The Dist. 1 councilwoman garnered 51 votes (46 percent) as of last night's primary tally, to narrowly lead challenger Robert Perales. He garnered 44 votes (40 percent). Both are assured of advancing to the general election because the third candidate in the race, Emanuel Santana Walle, received just 14 votes. Hancock says she expected yesterday's vote to be close between her and Perales, who is Granger's police chief. Hancock also refuted campaign materials claiming she was opposed to law enforcement, noting her council votes on budget reductions were focused on administrative personnel such as a crime analyst. "Those were not cuts on the street. We cut where we could cut without taking cops off the street. I'm not advocating we get rid of police officers, but that we spend our money wisely and take some of the recommendations of the MGT report that we have left languishing and make some improvements in the police department." Her focus heading into the general election season is looking at Sunnyside's overall needs. "Safety is always number one with me," she says. "It is the most important thing, but the whole balance of the city of Sunnyside needs to be looked at." She contends Sunnyside's general fund, which covers day-to-day costs, is "...not close to healthy, it's scary low." Hancock adds, "I'm supportive of law enforcement, but it's got to be a big picture thing, especially when we spend contingency funds on day-to-day operations." Perales says last night's results were surprising. "To be honest with you, I was really impressed with the showing that I had," he said, noting voters in his district were likely looking primarily for experienced candidates. Perales says his good showing is because the need for law enforcement and emergency services is "hitting home in Sunnyside." He adds, "It's got people thinking, people want to be safe." Looking ahead, Perales says he, too, wants to enhance other services in Sunnyside, as well as infrastructure. He says there is especially a need for more youth programs during the summer. "Sunnyside's a large enough town it can do something to provide activities for a good majority of the kids in the summer," he says, adding summer months are especially difficult for law enforcement because youths get bored and lack activities. "It's going to be interesting," Perales says of the approaching general election season. "Especially during budget time, we'll see what happens. Nov. 2 is around the corner." Fisher said there are still 10 votes to count in the Dist. 1 contest as of this morning. She says voter turnout in Yakima County has been right at about 25 percent, which she says was anticipated since it is an off-year primary. However, Sunnyside's Dist. 1 race saw voter turnout of just 14 percent and the Dist. 3 contest had a voter response of about 19 percent. County elections officials will post an update of primary vote tallies at 4:30 p.m. today (Wednesday).

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