After more than two decades as an aide-in-waiting, Councilwoman-elect Cindy Miscikowski was introduced to her new Spring Street colleagues as a peer Wednesday morning after defeating former mayoral aide Georgia Mercer by 1,375 votes.
The 52.8% to 47.2% victory for Miscikowski represented a comeback from a disappointing primary effort in which she finished second to Mercer in a four-way race to represent a district that is split almost evenly between the San Fernando Valley and the Westside.
It is also the realization of Miscikowski's dream to succeed her former boss, 11th District Councilman Marvin Braude, who introduced her to the City Council less than 12 hours after her victory in a tight, costly contest with Mercer became apparent late Tuesday night.
The two spent more than $1 million; Mercer raised about $566,000, and Miscikowski collected a war chest of $580,000.
The tide turned for Miscikowski after 10 p.m. when the City Clerk released Bulletin 7, in which Miscikowski surged ahead by 969 votes with about 80% of the precincts counted.
Miscikowski, deemed the front-runner from the outset, said her disappointing showing in the primary woke up a complacent campaign team and made her supporters realize they could not take the election for granted.
"My supporters got angry and got out there," she said. "There was a definite, different feel in the general campaign than in the primary."
Miscikowski also revamped her entire campaign, adding a field operation of paid walkers and phone banks, a crucial element in a low turnout election in which who votes takes on added significance.
Mercer used just such a solid field operation to upset Miscikowski in the primary.
Mercer called to concede and congratulate Miscikowski about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, ending her two-year effort to become a public official.
"It's a crushing defeat, but I have absolutely no regrets," Mercer said Wednesday. "There's nothing I'd rather have done and no way I'd rather have done it."
An oft-repeated political axiom--that negative campaigning works--held true in the council election.
In the primary, Mercer attacked Miscikowski over her gated community and her financial backing from lobbyists and developers, while Miscikowski ran all positive mail that did not mention her opponent.
After the second-place finish, however, Miscikowki went on the offensive, blasting Mercer for, among other things, saying that homeowner associations have too much power in the city and for being too liberal.
"'We got away from what I call our beautiful [positive] pieces," said Miscikowski consultant Rick Taylor.
Mercer pulled back on the hit mail, emphasizing soft-sell ads setting forth her plans for the district, a decision that may have cost her the race.
"I am shocked they didn't go negative with us because it worked in the primary," Taylor said.
Neither, for the most part, did the Mercer campaign respond to what Miscikowski was saying about her opponent in the mail.
Mercer's consultant, Larry Levine, said the scattershot nature of the hits plus feedback from voters they contacted by phone and at the door confirmed his instinct that the hits weren't working.
"I wish now we had attacked her in three-quarters of our mail," Levine said.
Though Mercer succeeded in the primary by relying heavily on her 32-year residency and voters' discontent with City Hall, Miscikowski said she was able to cut into Mercer's Valley support while hanging on to her Westside stronghold. Miscikowski lives in Brentwood.
At a City Hall news conference Wednesday, Miscikowski said her first priority is to create neighborhood councils in the district, first in Van Nuys because it is represented by five council members.
Ironically, neighborhood councils were the centerpiece of Mercer's campaign platform.
Miscikowski credited strong absentee voter support from Republicans with helping to put her over the top.
Taylor said that primary opponent Mark Isler, a Republican, had telephoned GOP voters every day over the last 1 1/2 weeks.
But in the end, the outcome rested on who was the most successful in getting her supporters to the polls.
When news came of Miscikowski's lead, cheers erupted at her election night party at an Encino restaurant.
In introducing Miscikowski, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky pronounced her the winner and she thanked her supporters.
"Thank you all so much, it feels fantastic," Miscikowski said.
About a mile down Ventura Boulevard, the crowd at Mercer's headquarters' party was not yet aware of the bad news, but in the back office, the mood turned suddenly gloomy and remained so the rest of the night.
"It's over," Levine said.
Times staff writers Hugo Martin and Julie Tamaki contributed to this story.
* 5 BOND ISSUES WIN: Officials prepare for school repairs. B14