Story updated at 12:10 p.m., Nov. 9
Voters appear to have changed the face of the Thornton City Council, even as they retained some of its current members in the 2023 election on Tuesday night.
While Jan Kulmann seemed to eke out another term as mayor, changes to the rest of the board appear to leave her and the other conservative board members in the minority for the first time in years.
After trailing initially, Roberta Ayala pulled ahead of Angie Bedolla by 36 votes late on Nov. 8 in the Ward 2 race. As of Nov. 9, Ayala’s lead still stood. She had 50.28% of the vote, edging ahead of Bedolla’s 49.72%. The two stand on ideologically different sides of the aisle, with Ayala a progressive candidate.
Ayala remained cautiously optimistic on Nov. 9.
“It was always our campaign mission to not just win an election; it was about making Thornton a better place or everybody,” she said. “My goal has never been about flipping the council. It’s always been about bringing leadership to the city of Thornton that is going to listen and truly be there to represent the people, and to uphold transparency in our local government.
“I believe that’s been missing and I think that’s what people want; that’s what I want to bring. I want to make sure we’re representing people over any special interests.”
Thornton is geographically divided into four wards, with two elected representatives from each ward. Two other wards also gained new representation, with Justin Martinez elected in Ward 1 and Christopher Russell in Ward 4.
David Acunto was reelected to his Ward 3 seat, results appeared to indicate. Acunto had 5,855 votes, according to the unofficial results Nov. 8. Challenger Mark Gormley had 4,909 votes.
As of Nov. 9, Kulmann had 16,837 votes to Marvin’s 14,673 in the unofficial results. Marvin vacated her Ward 2 seat to run for mayor.
The mayor’s race was a particularly difficult one. For the last few months, Thornton residents repeatedly showed up at council meetings to speak against Mayor Kulmann, criticizing the loss of ward meetings, the removal of an elected council member and their perception that the mayor refused to address issues. Nevertheless, Kulmann got about 53% of the votes.
Kulmann, a senior director with Xcel Energy, was elected Mayor of Thornton in November 2019. She was first elected to the Thornton City Council as a Ward 4 Councilmember in 2013.
“Thank you to Thornton voters for your support,” she said in an emailed statement. “We’ve worked hard together to build a safe community that welcomes working families, small businesses and opportunities for all.
“But we’re not done yet. I’m more bullish than ever to get to work to continue to improve our city and work with our southern residents to identify areas and ways to revitalize our existing communities. And we’ll continue to provide transparent and open government for our residents to work with us on making Thornton a great place to work, play and raise a family.”
Acunto, a Westminster police officer elected to council in 2019, also sent a statement via email.
“This election was about moving Thornton forward and continuing to create a safe and thriving community,” he wrote. “As someone who has dedicated his life to public service, I have been humbled by the support from families in Ward 3 and I look forward to continuing to be their voice on city council.”
Justin Martinez will now represent Ward 1, the most historic part of the city, alongside current Councilor Kathy Henson. He beat out Eric Garcia, appointed to the seat in 2022 after the council voted to remove former Councilor Jacque Phillips from the seat.
Martinez had 2,065 votes to Garcia’s 1,672, according to the unofficial results Nov. 9.
Several residents of that part of Thornton have repeatedly said they feel their concerns are not heard by the council.
“I’d like to thank the people of Ward 1,” Martinez said. “Ultimately, the people of Ward 1 really wanted their voices to be heard. A big part of this election in all the races was the people of Thornton feeling like they haven’t been heard when they’ve talked to their elected officials. I think that’s why we’re seeing some of the results we have, and I think that’s especially true in Ward 1. There are a lot of opportunities that have been left on the table and people are ready for some investment in our community.”
Christopher Russell, who will represent Ward 4, said he’s anxious to get to work. He collected 5,437 votes compared to his opponent Nichole Matkowsky, who had 4,298 votes in the unofficial tally Nov. 9.
“I think this is a big win for the city of Thornton,” he said. “This is significant in that it will help even out the imbalance within our city council. A more balanced city only brings positivity.
“Getting to work is my new focus. Let’s start turning these around. The biggest thing is individuals have not been able to communicate and get transparency from the council. I’m happy to open up that line of communication and do some solid work for our city.”
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