Gene James has a strong lead out in front in the early returns for a vacant seat on the San Clemente City Council. He led with 56 percent of the vote, to Jackson Hinkle’s 30 percent, as of the final election night update.

The seat came open this past May when Mayor Steven Swartz died.

The five candidates who ran during this election included James, a security consultant; marketing strategist Hinkle; business owner Dee Coleman; retired parole officer Michael McLane; and small business owner Christina Selter.

After the winner takes office, council members will decide who among them will become mayor.

Last year, James was the runner-up for a council seat, and this time had the most robust campaign treasury – raising $38,000 and spending $35,000 to try and win the seat.

James, born in La Jolla, California entered the Army at age 17. Since then He has pursued careers surrounding security, criminal justice and public administration.

James ran a campaign that focused on “crime and public safety, no toll roads and fiscal accountability.”

A council vote to appoint James to the vacancy back in May was a tie, leaving it to instead be filled by voters in today’s special election.

James wasn’t the only candidate who actively fundraised for the race.

Hinkle trailed James’ spending by only $6,000; raising a total of $31,000 and spending roughly $28,000, as of the latest disclosures. Michael McLane raised over $16,500 and spent about $14,000.

Voters could cast their mail-in their ballots through Election Day, with all ballots in the mail on Election Day and received by Friday eligible to be counted.

Updates on the results will be provided throughout the night as ballots continue to pour in from the city’s voting precincts.

Brandon Winchester is a reporting intern for Voice of OC’s youth media program, where the newsroom works with student journalists to cover public policy issues across Orange County.

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