Neither side, however, was ready to call the race based on the initial returns.
Bader, who has campaigned on a message of supporting core government services over the arts and recreational programs, led Robinson 52.1 to 47.4 percent, the Snohomish County Auditor's Office reported. That was with 19,312 ballots counted.
"I feel pretty confident now," Bader said.
Bader greeted early election returns alongside a few dozen supporters at the Everett Firefighters Hall, where he stressed his "extreme gratitude right now for the people who lent their name, their time and their money" to his campaign. He praised Robinson for running a strong campaign and being congenial whenever they crossed paths.
Robinson spent the evening with supporters at Everett City Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher's home. Despite Bader's lead, she held onto hope she would gain in the votes left to be counted.
"Obviously it's discouraging to see the votes going in that direction," she said. "It's not over."
Updated numbers are expected today.
The candidates are competing to fill the seat formerly held by Nielsen, who died May 12 in a rafting accident on the Green River.
The winner will serve out the remaining three years of Nielsen's term and is to be sworn in once the election results are certified.
The job is nonpartisan.
In late May, the City Council appointed businesswoman Gigi Burke to the job on an interim basis.
Robinson and Bader were the top two finishers in the Aug. 7 primary election, when both received just over 30 percent of the vote.
Bader, 48, has a law degree, though his work now involves helping Roman Catholic parishes on fundraising and other aspects of their development.
Robinson, 53, is a program manager with Public Health -- Seattle & King County and earlier worked as the director of the nonprofit Housing Consortium of Everett and Snohomish County. She has advocated for city government playing a prominent role supporting the arts and recreation, to make the city a more attractive place for businesses and their employees.
Bader reported raising $32,655.26 for the campaign and Robinson $22,324.51, state Public Disclosure Commission's website shows.
Both candidates have sewn up support from major city constituencies.
Robinson has won the backing of Nielsen's widow, Kim Nielsen, council members Paul Roberts and Stonecipher, and key labor groups. Bader's endorsements include the other five Everett City Council members, the main union for Everett city workers, the Everett firefighters union and the Everett Police Officers Association.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.
More Local News Headlines
Officer testifies about the night he was shot by a gunman Lake Stevens couple, jailed for abandoning kids, arrested again All four Lynnwood City Council incumbents trailing in election Lakewood student arrested after reported school threat 1:25 p.m. Veteran helps others navigate complicated system of services In Uniform Opportunities Applause
Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.