MARION — For the first time in 56 years, Marion voters have elected a mayor who is not Bob Butler.
Mike Absher was elected Tuesday evening, taking about 50 percent of the votes cast in Marion. Incumbent Mayor Anthony Rinella took almost 25 percent of the vote, with Alderman Angelo Hightower taking nearly 12 percent of the vote. Dennis Ball received less than 1 percent of votes cast.
Absher hosted an election watch party at Pookie’s Beer, Burgers and Bocce for supporters.
At 7:45 p.m., Absher held a lead with 51 percent of precincts reporting. He told supporters that it was too early to call.
“We’re going to wait a little while longer,” Absher said.
At 8:18 p.m. he again took the microphone, but only to tell the crowd he had ordered pizza because the food was gone.
Finally at 8:37 p.m., Absher said he was waiting on two things, “a phone call and our pizza.” He then read the breaking news alert from The Southern Illinoisan, which said, “Mike Absher, first Marion mayor elected since Bob Butler retired.”
The crowd erupted in cheers. Absher said the tough part was knowing what to say.
“The most exciting part has been watching what others did on my behalf,” Absher said.
He said individuals acted very quietly, under the radar, to support him.
Absher thanked his wife, Cheryl, saying she has been his business partner and life partner for 24 years. He also thanked his three sons, Cole, Reed and Will, calling them the “pride of my life.”
He also thanked his campaign committee, especially Joni Barwick, campaign chair; Justin Maze, who was responsible for a lot of strategy; and Bradley Marks, who lead the interns. He also thanked his supporters.
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“My candidacy is not about me; it’s about you,” Absher said.
He added that the advertising paled in comparison to the advocacy of his supporters.
“I want to thank those who served before me and encourage those who inevitably will serve after me,” Absher said.
He also said he expects to run the office of mayor like he has his business, knowing that he does not have all the answers, but seeking out people who can come up with answers.
“It’s not my town, it’s our town. Your impact just started tonight,” Absher told supporters.
In a phone call with The Southern, Mayor Anthony Rinella congratulated Absher on being elected mayor.
“I want to thank those who supported and voted for me," Rinella said. "I also want to thank the people of Marion who gave me the honor and pleasure of serving them for 42 years. It was the greatest honor of my life, and something I will always cherish."
Rinella said he plans to use his new spare time to enjoy himself, and to get more fishing, golf and hunting done. In fact, he was changing the lines on a couple of reels late Tuesday evening.
“Most certainly, I plan to spend more time with my family who, I’ll admit, I’ve neglected over the years. Many times I’ve put the city in front of my family, and that is one of my biggest regrets in life,” Rinella said.
Rinella served as a firefighter for the city of Marion for 32 years, including 6 ½ as fire chief, 10 years on Marion City Council, and the last 14 months as mayor. He was appointed mayor when Butler retired in 2018.
In the race for city commissioner, two incumbents will keep their seats and be joined by two new commissioners. Incumbents Doug Patton and Jim Webb carried the field with just under 45 percent of the vote each. They will serve with John Stoecklin, who took more than 38 percent of the vote, and John Monroe Barwick Jr., with just over 31 percent of the vote.
Patton was appointed in 2018 to fill Rinella’s seat. Webb was elected to the City Council in 2015. Stoecklin is a former member and president of the Marion School Board.