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Mayors return: Incumbents, newcomer picked to lead councils

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LAWRENCEVILLE -- Incumbent mayors won out in Gwinnett elections Tuesday.

From the blowouts by Dacula's Jimmy Wilbanks and Grayson's Jim Hinkle to the close win by Sugar Hill's Gary Pirkle, the races meant Gwinnett will have only one new mayor: Bill Orr, who won a landslide to take over at Braselton's top spot.

With elections in 11 Gwinnett cities and two more in Barrow, the incumbents won most of the contests, although the ousters of Snellville Councilman Robert Jenkins and Winder Councilman Mike Mingus, who served for 20 years, were noteworthy.

A Dec. 1 runoff will decide two council seats -- Lawrenceville's Post 3 to succeed Bob Clark will be between Katie Smith and John Merrill, while candidates Billy Jones and Elise Whitworth will continue to campaign for Duluth's Post 3, where Jim Hall did not seek re-election.

In the county seat, Lawrenceville incumbent P.K. Martin won a new term, beating Rodney Camren 481 to 390.

Sugar Hill Mayor Pirkle held on to win his third term, besting Andy Sudderth 699 to 634, while Councilman Mike Sullivan won a second term, and Curtis Northrop slid by Shohn Tanner to win the seat being vacated by Nick Thompson.

Snellville's stormy political scene may have cleared up a little, with incumbent Barbara Bender and victors Tom Witts and Mike Sabbagh pledging to provide unity. Bender's race was the tightest, with only six votes dividing her from Niria Baggett. Witts had the strongest lead, which he said may have been due to an anti-incumbent vote against Jenkins, a controversial figure who battled with Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer, even turning a discarded toilet into "yard art" after Oberholtzer filed a complaint against his untidy yard.

While the third member of Bender's and Witts slate lost to Sabbagh, a Jordan-born man who may have become the first immigrant to join the council, they say a 3-3 vote stalemate in the city may have been toppled.

Two years after most of Gwinnett's cities voted to allow tax allocation districts for revitalization, Snellville residents voted no on the referendum Tuesday.

But a Loganville referendum passed by only six votes. The referendum to change council terms from two years to four years passed 193 to 187.

Also in the city located on the county line with Walton, political newcomer Danny Curry was the top vote-getter over three council incumbents. Jerry Price and Wendell Geiger will hold onto their seats, but with the lowest number of votes, incumbent Pedro Vega was ousted.

Suwanee's incumbents Kevin McOmber and Jace Brooks survived a combined effort to slow spending in the northern Gwinnett city, while Dick Goodman won the special election to replace Jeanne Rispin, who recently moved out of town.

In Barrow County, incumbents Gayle Steed and Betty Lyle won new terms on the Statham City Council. They will be joined by political newcomer David Huth.

While Mingus was bested by former school board member Bob Dixon for the at-large seat in Winder, incumbent Sonny Morris easily held onto his Ward 1 seat.