ELKHART — Democrat Rod Roberson will become Elkhart's next mayor on Jan. 1 after defeating former Republican Mayor Dave Miller in a milestone election.
Roberson won with 56% of the vote.
"We did it!" Roberson told his supporters at the Lerner Theatre's Crystal Ballroom about 8 p.m. Tuesday.
He will be the first African American mayor in Elkhart.
More than 250 supporters, according to campaign staff, showed up at the celebration party.
Roberson's campaign slogan, "Building Elkhart Together," was a message that resonated with voters, according to the mayor-elect.
"It wasn't just a tag-line. It was what you look like. Look around the room," Roberson said, pointing to a diverse audience that went screaming.
Roberson praised Miller during his victory speech, saying the Republican had run well and pushed him to run a better campaign.
As in the Democratic primary, Roberson overcame being beaten on fundraising.
The Democrat thanked his supporters for their prayers and said that it all started with God.
"It's so important in our lives, in our family's life. It's so important to all of us," he said.
On stage with him was his wife, Regina, and his youngest daughter, as well as campaign manager Tanzie Nielsen, who all received massive applause.
Nielsen said she had spent most of Tuesday on the phone with voters, trying to get out the vote.
"This has been over a year in the making," she said. "There's been a lot of energy and a lot of support and positivity for what Rod, I think, is bringing to the table."
She said this is more than an election for Elkhart, calling Roberson's campaign and support "a movement."
Roberson, at the beginning of his campaign, promised to knock on every door in the city. Nielsen admitted after the polls had closed that the candidate most likely had not met that goal.
Republican Mayor Tim Neese, who did not run for re-election, will have his last day in office on Dec. 31.
On the Elkhart City Council, power switched from the Republicans to the Democrats as well, moving from 7-2 in Republican favor to 4-5 in Democratic favor.
Democrat Gerry Roberts defeated District 1 Republican incumbent Richard Shively 54% to 46%.
Republican District 2 incumbent Brian Thomas defeated his Democratic challenger Andrew Strycker by 53% to 47%.
Incumbent Democrats in Districts 3 and 4, Brent Curry and Dwight Fish, were unopposed.
Former Democratic Councilwoman Tonda Hines defeated Republican incumbent Pam Kurpgeweit by 58% to 42%. Kurpgeweit beat Hines by six votes in 2015.
Two of the three at-large seats will be kept by Republican incumbents Mary Olson and Kevin Bullard. Former 28-year Democratic Councilman Arvis Dawson took Republican City Council President Brian Dickerson's seat. Dickerson had outraised every City Council candidate by a large margin but could not convert his funds to a win.
In total, the Elkhart City Council will have three new members, all Democrats, in 2020.
"I'm excited to represent our district in a way that I believe will be fair and equitable for all," said Hines.
She said that Roberson and the Democrat's win was significant.
"I think the people, the voters, are saying they want some change," Hines said.
Miller’s watch party was held at the LEX 530 Metropolitan Center, where dozens of city, state and county officials, as well as community members, were in attendance.
In his concession, Miller expressed his gratitude to all those who supported his campaign and thanked all the state and local officials who endorsed him.
“I don’t like losing any more than anyone else does, but those who cared to vote, and not everyone did, have spoken,” he said.
Miller, who served as Elkhart mayor from 2000 through 2008, said the best part about running for office again is that he was able to meet and make many new friends and get reacquainted with people he lost touch with.
“I have to tell you, it’s been the thrill of my life and I was really looking forward to working with you ongoing,” he said. “But God has a different plan in store for us. Actually this makes my life a whole lot easier because I know what Rod’s in for; he has no clue … but this journey has been wonderful because of all of you.”
Among those in attendance was Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, former Elkhart County prosecutor, who said he had no thoughts about the results of the municipal election.
“I’m just here to support my friends,” he said.