WICHITA, KS—In a thrilling conclusion to one of the longest and most anticipated elections in U.S. history, charismatic Democrat Alan Klemke has defeated opponent Carl Ferguson to become the new alderperson for Wichita's 4th District.
Klemke delivered a rousing victory address in front of his now-famous campaign headquarters, located in a vacant storefront within the Westway Shopping Center. There Klemke thanked his staff for their hard work throughout a historic campaign that captured the hearts and minds of an entire district, including all neighborhoods south of Douglas Avenue and west of the Arkansas River.
"Thank you all," Klemke said, his momentous words signaling the beginning of a bold new era in Wichita City Council proceedings. "I promise to work hard on creating a more responsible municipal water policy and better parking regulations on the weekends. I am also committed to rezoning the old rail corridor on Baker Street, out past where the Denny's used to be, to allow for more commercial building and, hopefully, a new Denny's."
Added Klemke, "We did it!"
Members from every corner of the Wichita press turned out for Klemke's acceptance speech, providing another example of the veritable media frenzy that has surrounded this campaign. Portions of the address were broadcast late Tuesday evening on channels 3, 10, and 12, as well as on two local AM radio stations.
With 15,243 votes cast—the largest voter turnout in 4th District history—the American people made their voices heard as they elected Klemke over the incumbent Ferguson by a staggering margin of 3.5 percent. Klemke's win, some political analysts have said, is a shake-up of unparalleled proportions, marking the first time a sitting alderperson has† ever been defeated in his third term by a former Wichita public school superintendent.
"Surely this is what everyone will be talking about at work tomorrow," said political blogger and local sporting goods store owner Doug Heldinger, who endorsed Klemke in September, just weeks after he began his campaign. "It doesn't matter whether you're black, white, rich, poor, or from the part of Greater Wichita that used to be included in the 4th district but is now in District 2 under Alderperson Stephanie Glenn—everyone's talking Klemke."
Ferguson conceded the race to Klemke at approximately 11 p.m. Monday, after KSNW 3 anchor Ken Larson had already called the election for the Democrats on the 10 o'clock news. Speculation among media pundits as to whether Ferguson will rally supporters for a comeback in 2012 is already at a fever pitch, but for now, the day belongs to Klemke.
The story of Alan Klemke's ascent to alderpersonhood is as well known as it is inspiring. Rising from humble beginnings on the zoning reform board in 2004, Klemke was an underdog of City Council politics from the beginning. Despite gaining early support among proponents of the proposed Douglas Avenue Parking Facility downtown, Klemke's ability to appeal to mainstream 4th District voters was often in question, as he failed to connect with increasing demand for a streamlined recycling pickup schedule.
However, the real race for the coveted alderperson seat did not begin in earnest until two years ago, when former mayoral aide Janet Cosgrove, originally considered by most media pundits to be a shoe-in for the 4th District, drew strong support from voters who respected her stance on loitering outside of the Arby's.
But Cosgrove's controversial views on the wildly polarizing issue of a new all-weather municipal pool near Sedgwick County Park lost her support in the crucial swing neighborhoods of Northwood and Golfview, forcing her to drop out of the race and resume her position at the local food bank. In a shocking twist, Cosgrove later publicly endorsed Klemke at the July Fourth picnic in the Old Town district, calling his ideas for reforming the parks and recreation budget "exactly what this city needs."
In the months that followed, the race got even more heated. Excitement ramped up as both campaigns passed out more yard signs and honed their messages regarding what should be put inside the abandoned YMCA. The fierce contest for alderperson delivered controversy after controversy—the allegations of Presbyterianism, the now-infamous gazebo incident, and the game-changing endorsement by former library board member Edna Pound in the campaign's final, heart-stopping week—as the rest of the nation watched with bated breath.
But in the end, Klemke's triumph was clearly a result of his natural ability to inspire young Wichitanians.
"This was the first year I've been able to vote, and I wanted to make it count," Wichita State University student Jennifer Reid said. "I'm glad the woman at the polling station told me there was a back side to the ballot. I voted straight Democrat."
At last, the whole dramatic saga—the whisper campaigns about new property taxes on the Rolling Hills Country Club, the attack ads in The Wichita Eagle, the stirring speeches on issues as fundamental as the proposed remedies to traffic congestion on Kellogg Drive—have come to a final, thrilling, and, for many, joyful conclusion.
"Wichita has entered a new era," said Wichitanian Fred Bryerly, a reporter for the City Council Beat newsletter. "I'll always remember where I was when Alan Klemke stood on the steps of the Stanley Neighborhood City Hall and shook the hand of Carl Brewer, who is currently our mayor."