The race for two seats on the Turlock City Council remained tight late Tuesday, but two newcomers seemed to be pulling away.
In preliminary results, Modesto police officer Amy Bublak was running in first place with 7,305 votes, or 25.85 percent, with all of the precincts counted.
"It's a great feeling," said Bublak, who lost a 2006 bid for council by fewer than 200 votes. "I'm optimistic and confident that I will win whether I'm first or second, I'm not sure."
Candidate Mary Jackson took the lead against incumbent Kurt Vander Weide by 484 votes. Jackson had 7,216 votes, or 25.54 percent, and Vander Weide captured 6,732 votes, or 23.83 percent.
"We're very optimistic," said Jackson, a journalism instructor at Merced College. "I look forward to working with the new council if this is the result."
Jackson also ran unsuccessfully in 2006, when the field of City Council candidates numbered 15.
Vander Weide's consultant, Carl Fogliani, said earlier Tuesday night that the campaign was "confident" that "as the numbers go along in the night that Kurt's message was heard by the people of Turlock and that they appreciate his work in office." Vander Weide could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
City maintenance worker David Fransen had grass-roots appeal, pulling in the largest number of campaign contributors. But he ran a distant fourth, with 4,215 votes, or 14.92 percent. Fransen and Vander Weide ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2006.
Bublak and Vander Weide outspent their opponents by a 2-to-1 margin or more, pulling in $25,000 in donations from Monte Vista Crossings developer Mark Hall's companies. Those contributions accounted for about two-thirds of Bublak's more than $26,000 in fund raising and half of Vander Weide's roughly $20,000. Jackson collected about $9,000 and Fransen pulled in nearly $11,000.
In recent weeks, the campaign got nasty, much of it aimed at Jackson.
She was the target of two prerecorded telephone messages. One so-called "robo-call" accused her of currying favor with special interest groups. On Sunday, voters got a message impersonating Jackson and urging voters to vote "no" on the controversial Proposition 8 banning gay marriage, Jackson said.
In fifth place was evangelical minister Jim Sarnowsky, who claims an extensive drug history and a criminal record. Sarnowsky received 1,601 votes, or 5.67 percent.
Jeff Anderson appeared on the ballot but dropped out of the race. He got 541 votes, or 4.11 percent.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.