Candidate forum

Sioux City Council candidates and panelists sit at the front of the council chambers at City Hall Oct. 26 for the League of Women Voters' candidate forum. During Tuesday's election, voters selected three candidates to fill three open seats. 

Ian Richardson, Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY | It's been a similar story in Sioux City Council elections dating back more than a decade. 

A candidate finishes fourth or fifth in the primary election, then edges his or her way into the top three in the general election, securing a seat on the council. 

Former Councilman Keith Radig did it twice, finishing fifth in the 2009 primary and fourth in 2013, then ascending to third in the general elections both years, when the top three finalists won seats. Before him, former Councilman Jim Rixner made the jump from fourth in the 2005 primary to third in the general election. 

This year, the three challengers looking to unseat three incumbent council members are hoping to make a similar leap from the primary to the general election.

But they'll face an uphill battle to do so.

In recent history, the chasm between the top three and the bottom three candidates going from the primary into the general election has never been quite so wide.

This year's Oct. 10 primary narrowed the field of candidates vying for three open council seats from nine to six. Incumbents Dan Moore, Alex Watters and Pete Groetken were the three top vote recipients, respectively, finishing ahead of first-time candidates Denny Quinn, Doug Waples and Jake Jungers. 

The primary eliminated challengers Nick Davidson, John Olson and Brett Watchorn from the race.

Each of the three incumbents finished with a resounding lead over the rest of the field. Groetken, who came in third with 1,871 votes, received more than Quinn (608), Waples (603) and Jungers (531) combined -- finishing more than 1,200 votes ahead of fourth place. Moore and Watters received 2,198 and 1,968 votes, respectively. 

Despite the low 7.79 percent turnout for the primary, the gulf between third and fourth place is uniquely large this year. In 2013, the last election when three seats were up, third-place candidate Doug Batcheller finished 276 votes ahead of fourth-place Radig, 1,739 to 1,463. Radig then surpassed Batcheller in the general election, finishing with 804 more votes.

In 2009, third-place Jim Rixner carried a 409-vote lead over fourth-place candidate Ian Rappolt: 1,341 to 932. Radig, who would go on to beat them both in the general election, placed fifth in the primary with 871 votes. 

In 2005, Rixner finished in the primary only 67 votes back of third-place finisher Karen Van De Steeg -- 1,816 to 1,749 -- before beating her by 240 in the general election with a third-place finish. 

In interviews with The Journal over the past two weeks, all three challengers have acknowledged it will be a challenge to unseat the current incumbents, but they remain undeterred.

"We came in sixth in the primary, but we're 77 votes away from fourth place and, obviously, a little bit a ways from third, but the primary could be different results," Jungers said. 

Quinn said he plans to do a lot of door-knocking in the next few weeks to make up the deficit. 

Likewise, the incumbents have not taken their resounding finishes for granted. Moore said he is wary of thinking too much about his first-place finish following the Oct. 10 primary. 

This election also presents the opportunity to become the first in years to see a pair of councilmen -- Moore and Groetken -- win second terms. (Watters, the third incumbent, is seeking his first full term after being appointed in February to fill the final 10 months of Radig's second term. Radig resigned in January to take a seat on the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors.)

Sioux City Council candidates seeking re-election have experienced mixed results over the past decade-and-a-half. Until Oct. 10, an incumbent in one of the council's three-seat election years had not received the most votes in a primary or general election for more than a dozen years.

Radig's re-election in 2013 came in the same year that two other councilmen opted not to seek re-election. Two council members also called it quits in the 2009 election, the year Radig edged out Rixner, the councilman who had held the third seat.

Rixner's third-place finish in 2005 had squashed Van De Steeg's re-election bid, although one incumbent, David Ferris, did win re-election that year. 

The 2017 election comes two years after incumbent Councilwoman Rhonda Capron and Mayor Bob Scott handily won re-election to their respective seats in 2015. 

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