Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : First-Time Candidate Wins Seat on Palmdale Council : Returns: Sheriff's Sgt. Terry Judge is the top vote-getter. The mayor and a councilman stay in office.

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In an unexpected finish, a virtual political unknown and first-time candidate came out on top in the Palmdale City Council race.

Even with the election of Terry Judge in Tuesday's election, voters in Palmdale indicated satisfaction with their city leaders, retaining Jim Ledford for a second two-year term as mayor and Jim Root, one of two incumbents seeking reelection, for another four-year council term. Incumbent Teri Jones lost her bid to retain her council seat.

Neither Judge nor others seeking the two available council seats had a clear explanation of why Judge's campaign was so successful.

With crime a major issue in the community, Judge's 18 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department may have played a role. Judge said voters probably figured he has the most experience in combatting crime.

"I've got the qualifications," he said. Judge was identified on the ballot as a sergeant with the Sheriff's Department.

Root, who finished second with 2,331 votes compared to Judge's 2,455, said: "I think law and order was a big issue. People were probably voting as much in favor of him as a sheriff as anything else."

Another factor may be money. Although the bills are not all totaled, Judge estimates that $25,000 was spent on posters, mailers, advertisements and other efforts to get his message to the voters. Ledford put the tab for his successful campaign at about $20,000, while Root figured his at $15,000 or less.

Judge, a six-year Palmdale resident, also said he may have gained some name recognition through teaming up with a pair of candidates who are well-known in the community. He ran on a slate with incumbent councilwoman Jones and Mike Dispenza, a Palmdale business owner who was challenging Ledford for the mayor's post.

Jones, who finished a distant third in Tuesday's election in which less than 20% of Palmdale's 34,130 registered voters participated, said she was unsure if Judge's success came at the expense of her own reelection bid.

Although he was not active in Palmdale politics before the campaign or widely known in Palmdale, Judge said he did coach Little League. "I'm not one of those who try to make headlines."

Just as Judge was at a loss to explain his resounding success, mayoral candidate Dispenza had no reason for his loss.

Despite billboards, lots of mailers, being well-known in the community and spending $37,000, Dispenza finished with just 2,362 votes, well below Ledford's 3,208 votes.

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