Saco voters returned Mark Johnston to the mayor’s office in balloting Tuesday over challenger Jeffrey Christenbury.

Johnston received 3,249 votes to Christenbury’s 2,255.

“Thank you,” Johnston said to voters after learning the results. “I’m looking forward to doing the job for another two years.”

Incumbent Ward 7 Councilor Marston D. Lovell held on to defeat Nathan Johnston, Mark Johnston’s son, who was making his first run for the City Council. The vote was 317-270.

Christenbury had represented Ward 4 before moving out of the ward earlier this year. Mark Johnston had previously served six terms as mayor.

The incumbent mayor, Roland Michaud, stepped aside to seek a seat on the Regional School Unit 23 board of directors.

Johnston has been out of the mayor’s office for four years — a period in which the economy has soured and become the dominant issue for Saco residents, he said.

“This economy is precisely like it was in the 1991-’93 period — high unemployment, factories closing. The economy is probably worse today, but we made it during the early 2000s,” he said. “We were able to prevail.”

He added that as the local, state and regional economies rebound, new innovations “will help advance society even more.”

Johnston said that while the authority of the mayor is limited — it is a largely ceremonial post — he does have the ability to set the debate. He would like to see more historic preservation in Saco, including finding an adaptive use for the old fire station.

The mayor also sets a tone for the city that persists beyond the two-year term by appointing members to boards and commissions, he said.

Johnston said he is eager to return to politics.

“It’s just in my blood,” he said. He turns 60 this month and has been a merchant in town for 39 years since opening a speciality market called Vic and Whit’s.

Christenbury, a 26-year-old marketing associate for Thornton Academy and general manager of the school’s television station, had planned to embrace new technology, using social networking, blogs and mobile applications to keep residents informed and to promote local businesses.

Christenbury said after the results were in that he would remain active, attending meetings and working for the city’s future.

“Whatever differences we had, I just wish Mark well as he goes into the next two years,” Christenbury said. “We’re all going for the same goal here.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]