Incumbents in the Modesto and Oakdale irrigation districts were leading their challengers early today -- and by comfortable margins -- unofficial election returns showed.
With about 90 percent of Stanislaus County's 388 precincts reporting, the MID's Cecil Hensley had received 2,323 votes, or 63.4 percent. Challenger Nicholas S. "Nick" Bavaro had garnered 1,326 votes or 36.2 percent.
In Oakdale, Frank Clark had received 743 votes, or 61.8 percent, apparently holding off a challenge by Richard Sylvester, who had col-lected 457 votes, or 38 percent.
It was a different story in the Turlock Irrigation District, however, where incumbent Michael V. Crowell was trailing veterinarian Robert Santos.
Santos had received 1,310 votes, or 58.6 percent, to Crowell's 917 votes, or 41 percent, in the race for the TID District 4 seat that Crowell has held for 16 years.
While the names, faces and campaign approaches were different in each of the races, the candidates all agreed on this much: the need to preserve and protect the region's long-held rights to water from the Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers.
Hensley said he was gratified to be holding a substantial lead in his race against Bavaro, president of the Empire Union School District Board of Trustees.
"My constituents have given me a vote of confidence," Hensley said late Tuesday. "It's very encouraging that people have confidence in me. I really appreciate it."
The 81-year-old Hensley, who has served as a district director for 16 years, said this would be his last MID campaign.
"Yes," he said. "This is the last one. But there'll be something else. There's always something we can do to serve our community."
While Bavaro wouldn't rule out another run for the MID board in four years, he clearly was disappointed and upset with his showing Tuesday.
"I ran a very good campaign," he said. "I worked hard."
Bavaro blamed his poor showing, at least in part, on a Modesto Bee editorial that he said had unfairly tied him to Director Mike Serpa.
Serpa has been an outspoken and, at times, controversial member of the MID's board.
"The Bee buried me with that editorial," Bavaro said. "It was dishonest and reckless journalism."
No hard feelings toward victor
But Bavaro wished Hensley well and directed no animosity toward his opponent.
"I congratulate Cecil," Bavaro said. "He's a good guy."
In the Oakdale race, Clark was cautiously optimistic about his showing in Tuesday's election.
"Yes," he said, "I'm encouraged. I'm very happy."
Early in the race, when anti-Clark campaign signs sprung up in and around Oakdale, the incumbent said he was stung by the attack and worried about his re-election chances.
"Seeing those signs," he said, "well, it hurts your feelings. People think I'm hard and tough, but I'm really a sensitive guy."
Sylvester said he was disappointed with the results but glad he decided to run against Clark.
"I thought I ran a good campaign," Sylvester said. "I got out and talked to the voters. I raised some interesting issues."
Sylvester wasn't prepared to concede defeat Tuesday night, however.
"I won't have anything to say until (later) this morning," he said. "If I don't make it, I don't make it. But I'll feel sorry for the public."
Bee staff writer Michael G. Mooney can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2384.