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East Cleveland mayor, City Council president recalled in special election

East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton Jr.

EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio -- East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton Jr. and City Council President Thomas Wheeler were both narrowly recalled from their positions in a special election Tuesday night.

East Cleveland Mayor Gary NortonThe Plain Dealer file photo

The final, unofficial results show that Norton lost by a margin of 20 votes -- 548 to 528, according to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections website. Wheeler's margin was even narrower -- 18 votes.

The official election results will become available Dec. 19 after the votes are certified, according to the Board of Elections.

East Cleveland City Council President Thomas file photo

This is the third time Wheeler has been up for recall in a special election, once in December 2015 and again in June 2016. He narrowly won his June recall election with about 51 percent of the vote, though only about 7 percent of East Cleveland registered voters cast a ballot.

The Tuesday election was Norton's first time facing a recall since becoming mayor. The election could cost the city between $25,000 and $30,000.

Norton gave a short statement to late Tuesday following the loss.

"I love the people of East Cleveland, and it has been an honor to have served them," Norton said.

When reached Tuesday night, Wheeler said that he predicts "dramatic chaos" will take place due to deep divisions within the city council.

"They wanted me out, and it took them three times," Wheeler said in a phone interview with "Obviously they don't want the city to move forward; they want to go back to the way things used to be."

"I was born and raised in this city, and I'm done," he said.

Now that Norton and Wheeler have been recalled, the vice president of city council, Brandon King, will become mayor in 21 days, Wheeler said. The remaining city council members will have to appoint two people to replace Wheeler and King once King becomes mayor.

If council cannot agree about who to appoint to the vacant positions, King will choose who fills those seats, Wheeler said.

Devin Branch, who led the effort to recall Norton, said Tuesday night the people of East Cleveland have spoken, and while voter turnout was low, the majority of the city opposes the current mayor.

"Working class people of the city of East Cleveland are soundly against Mayor Norton," Branch said in a phone interview.

East Cleveland was declared in a state of fiscal emergency by the Auditor of State Dave Yost's office in 2012. In 2015, Yost said bankruptcy or merging with Cleveland were the two most viable options for the suburb.

The city explored filing for bankruptcy in May, but hit a roadblock when the Tax Commissioner's office said council should ask permission from the state, not the mayor. The letter from the commissioner also detailed the plans that the city must have prior to filing for bankruptcy.

Merger negotiations have slowed down after moving forward in August. Cleveland City Council Kevin Kelley denied East Cleveland's initial request to enter negotiations because of the long list of demands council had given to its commissioners. He has said Cleveland will continue exploring the possibility of merging with East Cleveland. reporter Emily Bamforth contributed to this report.

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