Laguna Beach City Council candidate Bob Whalen, right, gets a congratulatory handshake from Cty Councilwoman and former Mayor Elizabeth Pearson during an election night watch party at House of Big Fish and Cold Beer on Tuesday. (Don Leach, Coastline Pilot / November 8, 2012)

It was a long night for Laguna Beach City Council candidates.

Absentee ballots posted shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday put Planning Commissioner Robert Whalen in the lead followed by Steven Dicterow. But it was hours before all 26 precincts were counted, confirming the wins.

Whalen was the top vote-getter from the first count of absentee ballots, but it was nearly three hours before the precinct results began to trickle in. The first update was posted at 11 p.m. Tuesday, with just two precincts reported. Twenty-five of the 26 precincts had been counted as midnight neared.

On Tuesday night, Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson, who was at the Whalen party at the House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer, and longtime resident Frank Ricchiazzi, who was at Mare Culinary Lounge, both said that when the absentee vote was announced it was all over, save for the final counts.

Despite the assurances, Whalen chose not to give a victory speech at this party. Instead, he thanked his supporters.

"I will remember all of you who came out early to support me," Whalen said. "It wasn't easy for you to put yourselves out there, and I want to thank you."

Whalen focused his campaign on his background as a municipal finance attorney and his service to the community — 10 years on the school board and as president of both the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach and Laguna Beach Little League. He was endorsed by the Laguna Beach Police Employees Assn. and Laguna Beach firefighters.

"Naturally, we are pleased with the results," said Matt Lawson, Whalen's campaign treasurer. "I think we can all be proud of the campaign he ran, and that is a reflection of the candidate."

As of Thursday, Whalen earned 27.5% of the vote with 4,583 votes, 244 votes more than Dicterow. Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger took third place with 3,566 votes, 32 votes ahead of Mayor Jane Egly. Robert Ross trailed with 634 votes.

"I have to say that this is the happiest moment of my professional career — maybe I was too young the first time to appreciate it," Dicterow said.

Dicterow previously served on the council from 1994 to 2006. For the first time since he shared the dais in 1998 with Paul Freeman and Wayne Baglin, men will hold the majority of seats when the new council is installed.

Ricchiazzi said Dicterow earned his second place finish, beating incumbents Rollinger and Egly, by personally knocking on 7,000 doors in town.

"People want to know their council members, know they can call on them, talk to them," Dicterow said. "I showed them that I was accessible and that I was working really hard to get elected. We proved you don't have to spend the most money to win — that a grassroots campaign can win."

In the most recent filing of financial statements on Oct. 20, Dicterow reported donations of $22,244. He lagged the other candidates, except for Robert Ross, who did not file a financial statement.

Rollinger accumulated the biggest war chest: $64,324.17, with a little less than half of it spent. Whalen raised $57,195.83. Egly reported contributions of $33,773.

Deputy City Clerk Lisette Chel was elected city clerk. She and City Treasurer Laura Parisi ran unopposed, each picking up more than 7,000 votes.

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Obama celebration

Meanwhile, President Obama supporters didn't have the long wait that council candidates and their supporters endured. There was dancing in the streets outside the Laguna Beach Democratic headquarters less than 20 minutes after the California polls closed when major television networks projected "four more years."

"This is what makes [it] worthwhile," said Max Brown, as passing motorists honked congratulations to the jubilant crowd spilling out of the Coast Inn.