Bader had 2,483 votes -- just 33 more than Robinson's 2,450, the Snohomish County Auditor's Office reported. That gave him a slight edge with 31.5 percent to her 31.1 percent of the 7,878 votes tallied so far.
"I'm very happy at this point," said Bader, who was at home as the initial numbers rolled in. "I'm looking forward to three more months of doorbelling."
Robinson, meanwhile, was at the Everett Labor Temple, a traditional election-night meet-up spot for local Democrats.
"I'm really happy," she said. "I'm very optimistic."
Also making a decent showing was former Everett Mayor Pete Kinch, whose 1,640 votes gave him 20.8 percent of the total.
The seat is nonpartisan. The top two primary finishers advance to the Nov. 6 general election.
Bader, 48, is an attorney with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle. His priorities include fiscal discipline, public safety and making the city more business-friendly. He has spent most of his life in Everett and believes the south part of town deserves more of the city's attention.
Robinson, 53, is the former executive director of Housing Consortium of Everett and Snohomish County and a current program manager with Public Health Seattle and King County. She takes a similar stance to Nielsen in many areas, such as the importance of open government and continuing to invest in parks.
Bader and Robinson both ran unsuccessfully for council seats last year.
Kinch, 69, served as Everett's mayor from 1990 to 1994 and was a city councilman in the '70s. He's now executive director of the Everett nonprofit Hands for Peacemaking. He's concerned about the lack of progress at the city's multi-million dollar riverfront project. He said his experience would allow him to get up to speed quickly.
The other contenders are retired police officer Jon Ott and bank manager Bill Paulen, who received 9.7 and 6 percent of the vote, respectively.
The eventual winner will fill the seat left vacant when Nielsen died May 12 in a rafting accident. A 61-year-old real estate attorney, Nielsen had earned wide respect on the council for his intelligence and fairness. He was in his third term in office.
On May 30, the Everett City Council appointed Gigi Burke, a businesswoman and trustee at Everett Community College, to fill Nielsen's seat until a winner is certified in the fall election. Burke is not running for the job.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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