Brent Gish took over 29 percent of the vote and Michael Fairbanks collected nearly 22 percent, squeaking by Tara Mason by seven votes to win second place in a crowded special white Earth primary election Tuesday.
If the preliminary results hold, that means Gish (who received 523 votes) will take on Fairbanks (who received 391 votes) in the special general election Aug. 6.
The winner will fill out the one year remaining in the term of Tribal Chairman Terry Tibbetts, who died in March.
Tara Mason received 384 votes, or 21.5 percent, and Eugene Sommers came in fourth with more than 10 percent, or 185 votes, followed by Robert Durant with over 5 percent, or 94 votes.
Fifteen names were on the ballot, and none of the others received more than 40 votes.Gish had a steady showing across all 12 reservation precincts, as well as the precincts in Cass Lake and Minneapolis, and among absentee voters.
Mason, the former secretary-treasurer, had strong support in Naytahwaush, White Earth, and Rice Lake precincts, but Fairbanks had steady support across the reservation, and found strong support in Cass Lake and Minneapolis. He also had twice as many absentee votes as Mason. He said he had a relative who had put a lot of work in campaigning in those areas.
Gish, who served a stint on the tribal council in the 1970s, and has had a long career in public education, said he expects to work well with the current council members.
"I've always been able to find common ground with everyone," he said. "We focus on common ground rather than differences, and move forward," he said.
Fairbanks, who has had a long career in tribal administration, including serving as the tribe's deputy director, said he also will work well with the sitting council. "I'm very positive, my campaign has been very positive. I'm willing to work to move our council forward."
True leaders put a sense of duty above a love of power, and that's what he intends to do, he said.
The tribal council has been badly divided the past few years, and while candidates and their supporters were waiting for the votes to be tallied, Heidi Goodwin stood up and addressed the crowd at the Golden Eagle Bingo Hall:
"We need love and compassion and understanding for our people moving forward," she said. "Good luck to each and every one of you (candidates). I love each and every one of you. We don't need the ugly public fighting amongst each other, we don't need the arguing amongst each other, we need to continue to push forward."
The General Reservation Election Board will certify the Special Primary
Friday is the deadline to request a recount, and Tuesday is the deadline to contest the election results.