By JACOB BAYNHAM and PATRICK CROSS
Self-employed collectibles dealer John Hendrickson slid past forest products worker John Couch by a slim 36 votes last night to secure the Ward 2 seat on Missoula's City Council.
The 53-year-old Hendrickson, originally from New York, collected 834 votes to Couch's 798. Some 21 percent of the ward's 7, 895 registered voters cast votes.
“It’s been a long road, but I feel good,” Hendrickson said upon hearing the results. “I got my message out. People are dissatisfied … they want to feel part of the process, and I told them I could help.”
Due to the unexpected October resignation of Ward 2 Councilwoman Anne Kazmierczak, Hendrickson will join Don Nicholson in representing the ward starting next Monday. Tuesday's other victorious council candidates will take office in January.
Hendrickson said he has been keeping up on the issues and is ready to jump in.
“I’m not going to be a deer in the headlights,” he said. “I want the city to start planning for infrastructure and growth.”
Hendrickson said his first priority will be to try to stop the so-called "Broadway diet" – the city's effort to narrow West Broadway from four lanes to two – which he opposed during his campaign, saying it was hurting businesses on the street.
“Store owners are losing money, and I’m going to try to go to bat for them,” Hendrickson said.
During his campaign, Hendrickson said that Couch’s plan to make the street more bicycle and pedestrian friendly was not a viable solution for an unsafe road.
Hendrickson also supported plans by Safeway and St. Patrick Hospital to swap property on West Broadway to allow both businesses room for expansion. He said that Safeway is an asset to Missoula, and may relocate if the deal falls through, taking with it a pharmacy that the area’s elderly need.
Couch opposed the swap and is currently part of a group that is suing the city to stop the zoning change.
Couch was with his friends and supporters in the Union Club when the results came in. Although disappointed, Couch said he had a life to fall back on.
“I don’t have to have a contingency plan, I have a good job,” he said. “This was not about employment, this was about representation.”
Couch predicted Hendrickson will take similar stances to those of Ward 2's other representative, Don Nicholson, in supporting private businesses.
During the campaign, Hendrickson described himself as an “independent conservative,” explaining that although he has Republican leanings, he does not vote strictly along party lines.