PROVO — Call it "the Return of the King" and prepare for the coronation of the Queen Mum.

George Stewart, known as King George during his reign, er, term as Provo's mayor in the 1990s, is back as a newly elected City Council member. He'll be joined by a new face on the Council, grandmother and Brigham Young University student Cindy Clark, unless her 42-vote victory over incumbent Paul Warner evaporates when absentee and provisional votes are counted next week.

Warner said Wednesday he probably will ask for a recount, which wouldn't happen until after the council certifies the vote on Tuesday, but he and Clark, who has nine children and 28 grandchildren, assume the outcome will remain the same.

Regardless, Tuesday's election was a striking victory for the old guard, despite Warner's apparent failure to secure a third term. Stewart returned, and the man he hired to work for the city 10 years ago, Mayor Lewis Billings, easily won a third term, as did Councilwoman Cindy Richards.

Stewart and Richards showed up at Clark's door at 2:30 Wednesday morning to welcome her to the fold. Clark, admittedly too chicken to hang around and wait for voting results to trickle in, instead went out to watch the new Disney movie, "Chicken Little," with her husband, state Rep. Stephen Clark, R-Provo.

The question now is how to attach meaning to the wins of Provo political stalwarts Billings, Stewart and Richards, as well as Clark, who seems fairly aligned with that bunch, and the losses of the three men who came to be seen as candidates for change — Dave Bailey, Mark Sumsion and Adam Clark.

One thing is for certain: the voters rejected change two years after they seemed to embrace it by dismissing two incumbents and a former council member seeking a return of her own.

Specifically, the huge margin of victory by Richards over Adam Clark, a two-to-one spread, could be taken as a mandate from her central city district for continued emphasis on downtown revitalization.

Stewart expressed amazement at the changes in downtown neighborhoods.

"From her area of the city, and I think citywide, people understand you can't let your downtown go to pot and feel like the city's going to be OK," he said. "If you let the downtown rot, it will affect the rest of the city. That is a mandate. There was a lot of money and a lot of people lined up against her."

Stewart said the election also was a vindication of the past 12 years of city leadership. Many voters saw little difference between Stewart and Sumsion, two millionaire Republicans, but Stewart clearly was seen as aligned with Billings while Sumsion was recruited to run by a group of Provoans who loudly advocated change.

Another group seeking change, a new political action committee called Utahns for a Better Future, sent three hard-hitting mailers aimed at unseating Richards but apparently only energized her supporters.

"I feel like people wanted their vote to be heard as a vote against negative campaigning," Richards said.

Richards outspent Adam Clark, but it remains to be seen how much the PAC spent on the race. Clark believes he campaigned well and positively but was damaged by fallout from the PAC's mailers.

"I got kind of sandwiched between some ugly stuff," he said. "I got blamed for some nasty things and all people wanted to talk about was poor Cindy Richards when I really bore the brunt of it. She was considered the victim when I was as much of victim of that kind of campaigning as she was.

"She has a lot of people who love her so she's a tough campaigner to beat. It was a frustrating situation for me. But I ran a good race, I had a good time and met a lot of wonderful people, and that was the best part of this race."

Warner knew his race with Cindy Clark would be close. Clark was part of a six-person group that ran in the primary seeking Warner's ouster. The six vowed to back whichever member of the group advanced out of the primary, and the strategy worked, possibly boosted a little, Warner speculated, by help from Clark's legislator husband.

"It was Steve and Cindy plus the other five, so it was an uphill battle," he said. "I only got 45 percent of the vote on the primary. It was apparent then that we had some catching up to do.

"I definitely would like them to recount (the votes)," Warner added, "because I know mistakes can be made and when it's that close we owe the voters the assurance it's as accurate as possible."

City recorder LaNice Groesbeck said absentee ballots postmarked the day before the election will be counted if they arrive by Tuesday. She didn't know Wednesday how many provisional ballots had been cast in District 2, where Warner and Clark ran.


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com