With 11 candidates vying for four open seats in the Gilbert Town Council primary election, it appeared unlikely that a candidate would garner enough votes to win a seat outright and avoid a runoff.
However, Eddie Cook had 100 campaign volunteers, access to voters via his status as Republican leader in Legislative District 22 and name recognition from his helping lead a successful fight against the Proposition 406 sales-tax increase last year.
Those assets helped him appear on 8,286 ballots in last week's primary election, enough to reach the 50 percent plus one threshold to earn outright election. While six candidates move on to a May 17 runoff, Cook is readying to fill one of four open seats when the new council convenes on June 23.
"I was just wanting to make the top four," Cook said. "Coming out on top was a pleasant surprise."
Among the preparations for the 49-year-old Cook, a manager/sales and service for information technology company NetApp, have been talks with Mayor John Lewis and interim town manager Collin DeWitt. He said that he will be working with the executive search firm that is looking for a permanent town manager.
Cook said that his top priority is addressing a town budget deficit of $6 million for the upcoming fiscal year. That number is lower than town leaders had projected, but Cook said he feels that much of the red ink is due to a "culture of indulgence" among the council.
"There is a lot of stress that the prior leadership has done with overspending," Cook said. "As a result, going into the next four years, a lot of tough decisions will have to be made."
Continuing use of the town's reserve funds - $7 million in savings-fund transfers was utilized to balance the fiscal 2010-11 budget - is not sustainable, Cook said.
"We need to increase the revenue base as much as possible," Cook said. "That means growing Gilbert's current small businesses and helping them become more profitable and expand their business. If a business goes from five to seven employees, and we can do that 100 times, that will mean more jobs. And we need to attract new business to Gilbert.
"I feel that we're still in the dugout (in the process). We're not even up to bat, so we can get to first base, then second base and so forth."
Runoffs were not necessary in Gilbert from 1995 to 1999; each of the 10 open council seats in those three elections were filled in the primary. Since then, it has been more challenging for a candidate - especially a challenger - to earn outright election.
Six candidates in six Gilbert council elections since 2000 have claimed a seat in the primary, with only one, Linda Abbott in 2007, doing so as a challenger. And Abbott had prior council experience, from 1991 to 1995.
A resident of Gilbert since 1986, Cook considers his upcoming council term an extension of the community involvement that has included such endeavors as graduating from the town's citizens police academy, coaching baseball and serving on the board of a local Catholic school.
"I like to think I'm just a normal individual," Cook said. "I've done a lot in Gilbert, and that will not change. I'm just continuing my love to serve, which is what really drives me to do this."