CERES -- In a tight race, all three incumbents are headed back to the City Council, according to unofficial election returns.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting today, Rob Phipps and Guillermo Ochoa appear to have won re-election. Ochoa led with 1,417 votes, or 29.3 percent. Phipps was second with 1,348, or 27.8 percent, and challenger Mike Kline was a close third at 1,197, or 24.7 percent.
Mayor Anthony Cannella ran unopposed.
A total of 4,846 votes were counted late Tuesday. County election officers still need to count several thousand absentee ballots. The five candidates were running for three seats to represent the city's 42,000 citizens.
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Trailing by only 151 votes, Kline said he was frustrated Tuesday night by what he called dirty campaigning. When he drove around town at 8 p.m. Tuesday to take down his signs, Kline said he noticed many of his signs buried behind Ochoa, Phipps or Cannella logos.
"Whether I win or lose, this is not right," Kline said.
Ochoa and Phipps denied any involvement, with Ochoa adding that his signs have been stolen or vandalized.
Kline attributed the tight race for the last seat to newspaper ads and his lengthy involvement in the community.
Phipps said the race was closer than he anticipated, but noted that's what happens when a small group of people venture to the polls.
"Does that mean everyone's happy with the way things are going?" he said.
Phipps was confident he secured a seat, but said he'd check the online returns throughout the night.
Ochoa said he wasn't surprised that Kline was right behind the incumbents.
Cannella, Phipps and Ochoa were gathered with supporters at the Whitmore Mansion.
Challenger Steve Breckenridge captured 18 percent of the vote.
Cannella cruised to victory with only 84 write-in candidates against him late Tuesday. He will be the first Ceres mayor to serve a four-year term.
"The two years have gone by in the blink of an eye," he said.
Cannella, Phipps and Ochoa said their wins were almost overshadowed by the victory of Measure H, the city's public safety sales tax measure.
Tuesday's winners will help decide whether Wal-Mart opens another store, this one a supercenter. They also will shape how, where and in which direction growth happens in Ceres, and how to best combat increasing crime rates.
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2339.