Voters put Moline Mayor Scott Raes on notice Tuesday night. And he better take heed if he intends to cling to his post atop City Hall.
Raes spent more time trying to clear the field through legal means than make his pitch to voters about why he should be re-elected in April. Alderwoman Stephanie Acri posed the biggest threat to Raes' longevity, and she bore the brunt of Raes' crusade to deny voters of a choice.
But the mayor's opponents got the best of him. They put up sacrificial lambs in order to force Tuesday's primary. The very existence of a primary election was a defeat for Raes. But, even so, he still held every advantage. Raes' name was the only one on the ballot. The rest, including Acri, were mounting write-in bids. And anyone who follows elections knows that write-ins typically have about the same chances for victory as pigs do to take to the skies. Even a minor misspelling is grounds for a ballot to be tossed, in many instances.
It's against that backdrop in which Acri trounced Raes in the first round of a bout that will now continue through the general election on April 4. Acri's write-in bid received 2,984 votes. Raes mustered just 799. It's a staggering early defeat for an incumbent who, by sake of his office, has an automatic sphere of influence and support.
No doubt, Raes awoke Wednesday feeling the sting. What's important, however, is that he pivots from a man looking to commandeer an elected office to one who is willing to fight for it.
Raes isn't a terrible mayor. By most accounts, he's relatively effective when touting Moline to would-be investors. His approach to business incentives — such as tax increment financing — is generally appropriate.
It's probable that many voters punished Raes on Tuesday for his utter disrespect for the democratic process.
Acri is no slouch. Her background is in engineering. She has a clear understanding of the issues. And she pledges a more hands-on approach with the City Council as opposed to Raes' laissez-faire style.
Acri vs. Raes will offer voters some stark differences come April. It should make for a good race, one that lays bare the issues facing Moline's future, a city that's in transition because of outside economic forces.
That's the point, after all.
But Raes' didn't want to have that debate. He instead angled for a coronation. His backers within Moline's political circles played along. And, so far, Moline has embarrassed itself through its utter inability to run something as fundamental as an election.
The ruse burned him Tuesday.
Hopefully, Raes learns from the shellacking and is preparing a campaign not built upon stealing an election.
Elections are meaningless unless voters have a real choice. Moline could use a substantive debate about where it's headed. Vigorous contested election cycles tend to do just that.
But, until now, it's an argument Moline Mayor Scott Raes had hoped to avoid at all cost.