BY ALEX PIAZZA
TRAVERSE CITY — A county commissioner surged past a term-limited state representative in Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties and appeared to have won a hotly contested race for a judicial seat on the 86th District Court.
Mike Stepka, a Traverse City attorney and Grand Traverse County commissioner, apparently beat Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, though at least one precinct in Antrim County, Elsenheimer's stronghold, hadn't reported vote totals by early Wednesday.
"We did a lot of door-to-door in the second half," Stepka said. "We changed our advertising strategy a bit more. We had more visibility through billboards. We worked hard on getting the word out there and I think people believe I was the right candidate."
Stepka will replace retiring Judge John D. Foresman in the 86th District Court, which seats three judges and covers Antrim, Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties.
Bill Perkins cast his vote Tuesday in Suttons Bay Township for Stepka because he believed Elsenheimer ran a campaign based on politics.
"I wish the judge thing was a lot less partisan," Perkins said.
Cindy Robb also voted for Stepka because of his work in the 86th District Court over the past 20 years.
"He's been working in the trenches," Robb, of Suttons Bay Township, said.
Robb also commended Stepka for being "even-keeled and fair," characteristics she looks for in a judge.
Elsenheimer, a three-term state representative from Bellaire and House Republican minority leader, handily won the August primary election, but support dropped in recent months.
"I think Mike ran an absolutely flawless campaign," Elsenheimer said. "He will be an outstanding judge. He was able to pull a few more votes here and there."
Elsenheimer, who is term-limited, said he's uncertain of his future plans.
"I'll wait and see what opportunities are out there," he said. "I have a law firm here in northern Michigan and a practice that I love. I think things happen for a reason."
Stepka will serve a six-year term.