MARION -- Michael W. Absher has been elected the new mayor of Marion, easily outdistancing incumbent Anthony L. Rinella, Tuesday night.
According to unofficial vote totals, Absher finished with 43.5 percent of the 3,324 votes cast or 1,447 votes as opposed to Rinella's 914 total votes -- more than a 500-vote swing.
Outgoing city Commissioner Angelo Hightower came in third at 433 votes and newcomer Dennis Ball was barely on the board with 10 votes.
Absher's election is historic in that he is the first person elected mayor of the city other than Robert "Bob" Butler since 1959, when Robert Cooksey was elected to a four-year term.
"I'm very pleased with the results and humbled by the support," Absher said Tuesday night.
"I've never done anything like this before. I had friends of mine telling me I would do well, but I am one who has to see it to believe it. I'm excited to get started."
Absher, who has been on the Marion Unit District 2 school board since 2011 and has been president of the board since 2013, is a lifelong Marion resident, who graduated from both Marion High School and Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He is active in the Marion Rotary Club.
Absher said he looks forward to working with a changing group of commissioners and acknowledged that the financial standing of the city is on solid ground.
He said one of his primary concerns will be reaching out to Illinois Star Centre Mall anchor tenants, Dillard's and Target, in an attempt to find new strategies for refurbishing a once-bustling mall.
"I understand what their motives are -- to make a profit and grow their business," Absher said. "They may know of other developers who would be interested in coming to Marion. I still believe in that property. Location is usually the big issue when businesses close, but location is certainly not the problem here. We need a running dialogue at the corporate level with Dillard's and Target. We need to get their feedback."
Rinella, meanwhile, said Tuesday night he has "no reason to hang his head" following his defeat.
"Not at all. There's nothing wrong with the city. We've settled all five labor contracts and we will be working with a surplus of funds," he said. "I congratulate Mike and wish him well. The voters wanted a more popular person to lead them and he is that. I just hope he uses his skills to be a good mayor for all the people of Marion."