PROVO — The 2001 primary was difficult for Mayor Lewis Billings, whose three opponents earned 58 percent of the vote.
Billings still topped the primary at 42 percent, but the apparent opposition to a second term for the incumbent mayor correctly predicted a close general election: Billings narrowly edged Dave Bailey by 362 votes out of 10,498 ballots cast.
Now, as Billings seeks a third term and a second victory over Bailey, neither man will have to worry about a primary — and observers won't get a preview of the general election — because the two other challengers dropped out of the race this week to endorse Bailey.
Jim Vein and Andrew Thompson ended their candidacies after less than a month, decisions that canceled the primary.
Bailey was pleased with the endorsements and the likelihood that he won't need to raise as much money as he anticipated.
"It costs to have a primary," Bailey said. "You have to get fliers out especially for the primary, you have to do extra footwork, place ads in the newspaper. It's a whole different strategy running against several other people rather than being in the finals, in the general election (against one person).
"It takes a bit of the pressure off not to have a primary. We can focus more on a long-term strategy, if you want to call eight weeks 'long-term.' "
Billings was indifferent about the sudden lack of a primary experience. However, he expressed concern that without a primary, voters might not be engaged by the process until far later in the fall than usual.
"A lot of people aren't quite tuned in at the time of a primary," he said.
The publicity surrounding the primary can help. In 1997, when Billings won his first election, nearly 4,000 more people voted in the general election than in the primary. In 2001, that number rose to more than 4,700.
"I hope (the lack of a primary) won't delay too long the discussion or the debate," he said. "We usually have one debate before the primary."
Both campaigns said the candidates will hold debates.
Neither Vein nor Thompson were considered viable threats to Billings or Bailey. Neither had comparable name recognition, organizations or fund-raising prospects.
"I hoped if I threw my hat in the ring I could pull votes from Lewis Billings," Vein said. "Instead, I'm going to work for Dave. I had a bunch of concerns about the way Lewis Billings is running the city."
Thompson has confronted Billings over various issues for more than a decade, stretching back to when Billings was the city's chief administrative officer. In fact, Thompson's roommate in 1997, James W. Anderson, ran against Billings in the primary that year, picking up 165 votes to Billings' 3,788.
The flaps include disagreements over bus benches in the city. Thompson once unsuccessfully bid to provide benches in the city.
Recently, Thompson said he disapproved of the way the city handled the investigation of a 911 call to Provo's dispatch center that was botched by a reserve dispatcher, resulting in the death of Scott Aston and a $220,000 settlement with Aston's family. He also said the city didn't know about the demolition of the Hotel Roberts and criticized Provo Police for using a church parking lot to monitor a speed trap in the city.
Thompson also was at the center of a controversy this spring after he complained when the independent newspaper City Weekly was pulled from the shelves at the Provo library.
"I think it's time for a change for the better in the city," Thompson said.
Billings said the city knew the Hotel Roberts was coming down. City administration also put an end to the church speed traps.
"A lot of depth and discussion goes into every one of those issues," Billings said. "People have to try to get to the bottom of objective facts and not some distortion or personal interpretation from someone who doesn't have as much depth or detail I would hope people would use to evaluate the city.
"It's important people who serve in elective office be held accountable, but they must be accountable based on objective factors."
Bailey reached out through a campaign staffer to Vein and Thompson, who indicated a willingness to endorse him. Their letters of resignation were delivered separately to City Recorder LaNice Groesbeck, Groesbeck said. Both have since signed affidavits stating they have withdrawn from the race.