The War at Home
The mood at Election Day parties ranged from anxious to resigned.
Thursday, November 4, 2004
At 3pm on Election Day, it was too early to call just about any race, except one: The contest—if it could even be called a contest—between sitting Assemblyman John Laird, a Democrat, and his Republican opponent, Del Rey Oaks Mayor Jack Barlich.
Both men were listed on the ballot as candidates for the 27th District, which includes the western half of Monterey County and most of Santa Cruz County. But because of his poor health, Barlich didn’t campaign, or raise any money, and it was widely assumed the popular incumbent would sweep the race. (Laird did, in fact, win a second term in office, by 69 percent of the vote.)
But at 3pm on Nov. 2, Laird was sitting in the Monterey Democratic Headquarters, talking about the other contests he has been following. He said he was hoping to see San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Peg Pinard beat Republican Assemblyman Abel Maldonado in the bid for the 15th Senate District—expected to be one of the closest races in the state (most of the legislative contests were decided by gerrymandering). Should Pinard win, and replace outgoing state Senator Bruce McPherson, the Dems would pick up an additional seat in the Senate.
Laird said he was also pulling for fellow Democrat Jane Parker in her run for County Supervisor against Seaside Mayor Jerry Smith.
“It really will affect the direction of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, on the General Plan, on land use matters, on human service matters,” he said. “I think [Parker], together with Dave Potter will be able to pull one of the other supervisors and almost always assure three votes.”
An early reveler walked by the Fremont Street office and said pollster Zogby had called the Presidential election for Senator John Kerry. A small TV tuned to CNN counted down the minutes and seconds until the first polls were to close—27 minutes and some seconds.
“Gosh,” Laird said, “I can’t believe it’s 27 minutes until the party starts.”
Four hours later—less than an hour before county polls closed—Peg Pinard was scheduled to be at the Monterey Democratic Headquarters. Car troubles kept her away.
“It’s a nail biter,” said Carl Pohlhammer, who chairs the Monterey County Democratic Central Committee, but he said he remained optimistic that Pinard would win. “That is our expectation—the more people that turn out to vote against George Bush and for John Kerry, those same people will also turn out for our local Democratic candidates. That’s the way it usually works: High voter turnouts means Democrats win. We’re having very high turnouts so it looks good.”
By early Wednesday morning however, Maldonado had won the race against Pinard, pulling in about 53 percent of the vote.
On Election Night, however, Pohlhammer remained optimistic as he headed over to witness another “nail-biter” contest: Jane Parker’s victory party at Mountain Mike’s Pizza in Marina.
“Those who say non-partisan races should not be made partisan—well, they should look at what the Republicans have done,” he says. “They have made them partisan. We have too many people who are local officials who are Republican, and Jerry Smith is one of them.”
In Marina, however, there were more than a few Republicans who were cheering for Parker. Jan Mitchell, a Prunedale rancher and County government watchdog, was one of them.
“The desal plant, Rancho San Juan, the General Plan Update, of course, those are three key reasons why we need Jane Parker,” Mitchell said. We want common sense, and aside from Potter, we rarely get that now on the Board. We need better representation.”
It’s widely assumed that a Jerry Smith term in office will signal more of the same: more backroom deals with big developers, more stalling the General Plan Update process, more disregard for environmental laws and county codes, and more mini-mansion-and-golf-course subdivisions to be built called Rancho something or other.
“Stop all the talk, and let’s get some action on these issues,” Parker said at the event. “The people feel that not only do I have a commitment to them, but I also have the ability and the strength to hold firm and make things happen. Jerry Smith really represents the same old story, the same old people running the show, the same exclusion of the public’s interests.”
Elkhorn Slough activist Mari Kloeppel, who volunteered for Parker’s campaign, said, “Jane’s not bought and paid for by developers. Her campaign is a grassroots campaign. With Jerry Smith, he supported the General Plan going the path it did, which was a huge waste of taxpayer’s money. He’s the chair of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority, and he didn’t even support Sam Farr’s housing proposal when most of the people who live here can’t afford to buy homes here.”
Early results on Nov. 2 showed Smith holding the narrowest of leads over Parker. Not much changed the next morning. At 6:30am, Nov. 3, Smith led by about 200 votes, with about 87 percent of the precincts counted. In the end, Parker lost by 300.
At Mountain Mike’s Tuesday night, the supervisorial race—and the US Presidential race—were too close to call.
LandWatch’s Gary Patton was still hoping for a Parker and Kerry win.
“It’s really a struggle for the soul of America,” he says. “To me, it’s the figure of a hooded, tortured person in a prison, run by Americans, and do we let that happen? We need someone who epitomizes the best of the American spirit, and I think George Bush epitomizes the worst.”
The partygoers felt just as strongly about Parker winning a seat on the Supes.
“Jane is going to bring a balance to the Board, an intellect to the Board,” said social worker Wren Bradley. “Right now, the Board is stacked in favor of the two industries that unfortunately provide the worst benefits for their employees. As a union, we’ll certainly have issues with her, but I would rather deal with someone who we can have an honest discussion with, rather than knowing that back-door deals are being made at the expense of the county employees, and honestly, that’s what I see happening right now.”
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In Monterey, High Turnout Lifts Democrats’ Spirits Along with the mingling and light air one expects at a party, tense anticipation filled the Democratic Party Headquarters Tuesday night, as news of the day’s election started to come in. Occasional bursts of cheering or a suddenly glum pause in conversation marked each little televised victory or defeat, as most people, especially the older and wiser, shrugged their shoulders and went on talking and laughing.
“I’ll still be Barbara,” said Barbara Bass-Evans, who was running for City Council. “I was pleased that so many people were running; it was the largest candidacy I had ever seen.”
She said this election marked the first time several seats were really open on the City Council for a long time. Some of the incumbents have been on the Council for over 20 years, including Mayor Dan Albert.
The opportunity for change motivated residents to turn out in remarkable numbers.
“I hope community involvement remains as high,” said Evans, a sentiment shared by many others.
“This is the most refreshing event I’ve seen as a Democrat in a while,” said Vinz Koller, who works with the Monterey Democratic Party, while surveying the crowd.
“I’ve never seen a more mixed crowd,” said County Supervisor Dave Potter. “There’s now some of the old guard Democrats here who are a minority compared to the younger voters. Its really a new political dynamic.”
Up the hill, a smaller, more relaxed party took place for city council candidate Jeff Haferman. At 8:30 in the evening, Haferman had a substantial lead in the race, reflected by a demure celebratory air. Haferman outlined his vision of the future.
“We need to maintain the special character of Monterey,” he said. “I don’t want to see excessive growth. Anything built in Monterey needs to maintain its personality.”
Addressing the problems in the school district, Haferman advocated a hands-on approach from the city, modeled on the city’s policy towards local military bases.
“Ten years ago the Pentagon wanted to close down the local military bases. I work for the military, a lot of local people work for the military. So the city said, ‘We’ll help maintain the bases.’”
A similar policy, Haferman argued, could be put into effect to help the schools. “We need to form a partnership with the school district.”
Beyond that, Haferman laid down his bottom line: “Whatever is most cost-effective,” he said of his positions on reorganizing water management and affordable housing. “The military has been building quality affordable housing on the Defense Language Institute and La Mesa, my question is, why haven’t we as a region been able to make that kind of progress?”
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Salinas Party Veterans Suffer Through A Few Victories. A banquet of mixed emotions was evident on the faces of partygoers at Chapala Restaurant in Salinas Tuesday night. On the up side was Salinas’ favorite daughter and landslide winner of the night, Mayor Anna Caballero. But the well-deserved glow in which Caballero could have easily basked all night long was weighted down by the defeat of Measures A, B and C. The triplets were pitched hard and constantly as a pot of gold for a city whose residents are staring at incomprehensible cuts and closures due to a $9.5 million deficit in the next fiscal year. Libraries, rec centers, police, and fire will close or suffer.
“Without A, B and C, we’ll basically have to go into emergency-response-only mode,” Councilmember Jyl Lutes said of the city’s daunting economic future. By morning, it appeared that Measure C’s business license tax, which will garner the least amount of cash for the city, eventually did squeak by.
One supporter called it a night rather early, giving Caballero a nod and a sympathetic smile. But it was too early in the night for Caballero to concede anything, and she wasn’t budging.
“It’s not over,” Caballero quickly called out, raising her arms to draw the sad man into a hug. “I have a good feeling about it. I may be crazy, but I have a good feeling.” It was part advocate, part believer, and a little bit visionary of what could be. If only.
It’s Caballero’s calling card, her mark on the community that her supporters say will carry the city through the economic nightmare. But Caballero’s a realist, knowing she can’t write checks voters won’t fund. She’s ready to lead the city through that, too, and the moment-ago activist of A, B, C becomes the advocate of Salinas in the face of the measures’ defeat. “We’ll reorganize, and we can do that too,” she says. And then it sunk in, and everyone around her began to nod. Even as bursts of cheering erupted at each new poll count of the momentarily-forgotten mayoral race, something about the rhythmic nods resonated: they know the city’s fiscal decisions will be tough, frighteningly so; they’re glad it’s Caballero at the head of the table.
At the other end of Oldtown, the Salinas Valley Democratic Club shared party space with Assemblyman Simón Salinas. And everyone was in a celebratory mood, despite the Kerry-Edwards tally ticking along on the screen. County Supervisor Fernando Armenta ate dinner and dolled out hugs in the party room’s entry, and Sam Farr’s folks rounded out a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd that easily spilled out the back door.
“Every election is important,” said Farr’s District Director Alec Arago. Arago kept one eye on a television screen off in the distance as Farr lunged further and further ahead of pseudo-challenger Mark Risley. “Local leadership is a challenge,” Arago said. “It directly affects how we live day to day. Do we want someone in office who reacts to what has been, or someone who projects into what can be?”
“I’m hopeful, optimistic,” Simón Salinas said, with a weary but confident smile. “And I’m really hoping to have solid numbers by 10:30 or 11.” He wouldn’t have to wait that long. By the time polls closed, and perhaps longer ago than that, Salinas had clearly beat Republican Bob Perkins.
Outside of El Camaron, not all Democrats fared so well. Still, the parties just kept on humming, despite the hour and the numbers. The presidential election could only temper so much enthusiasm, at least until sunrise. In the interim, there was reason to celebrate. And it ain’t so bad to have to squeeze your way out of a packed election party or two. That much interest, that much energy, it can only be good for what’s ahead.
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Comfortable Margins in PG At 8pm on election night, in the cozy living room of Pacific Grove’s charming Centrella Inn, nine-year councilmember Jim Costello and his wife Jeanne were watching TV to see if Jim had been elected mayor over opponent Steve Polkaba.
“It’s going to be a long night,” Costello said. “I just want it over. Everyone says, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ but there’s definitely an anti-incumbent stream of people. PG is a funny place when it comes to election time. Anything can happen.”
Then Costello brightened. “Although, I was just in Nob Hill, and three people came up to me and said, ‘I just voted for you.’”
“They are not going to tell you if they didn’t vote for you,” Jeanne Costello said with a smile. “It’s going to be interesting to see.”
When asked for predictions on the council race among candidates Bruce Obbink, Jeffrey Flathers, Susan Nilmeier, Daniel Cort, Scott Miller, Don Gasperson and Sue Renz—Jim Costello replied, unrevealingly, “I think the winners will win, and the losers will lose.”
When pressed, Costello said, “I think more establishment rather than anti-establishment will win, like Dan Cort. Don Gasperson has also raised a lot of money. There seems to be a huge anti-Obbink voice, but it doesn’t seem as big in numbers as in voice. I’m always wrong in what I guess.”
By 6am Wednesday, 14 out of 14 precincts had been counted, giving Dan Cort almost 23 percent of the vote, with Scott Miller just behind Cort, and Susan Nilmeier in third place with about 17 percent of the vote.
Former mayor Sandy Koffmann and her husband Dan were among the first well-wishers to arrive to greet the Costellos.
“I’ve never been so nervous on a national level,” Sandy Koffmann said. “I have faith in the voters for you, Jim.”
Costello mentioned that there have been some problems at Pacific Grove polling places, with incomplete ballots being given out.
Fred Crocker, who voted around 6pm at First Baptist Church, backed up that statement.
“Measure I and Prop 67 and 68 were not on my ballot,” he said. “There were two other ladies who were saying the same thing. They gave us all new ballots.”
When asked for an opinion on Measure I, the open space initiative that would prevent the construction of an already-in-process golf clubhouse remodel, both Crocker and his wife Renée were hesitant.
“I don’t believe in government by initiative,” Renée said. “[The issue] has been divisive and hopefully after the election people will put it behind them.”
Numbers from absentee voters came in over the television, and Costello, a middle school teacher, grabbed one of his election signs and scribbled numbers on the back with a squeaky marker, then propped the sign on the inn’s fireplace mantel. Measure I was going down just over 50 percent to 49, and Costello had 1,740 votes while Polkaba had 1446. (By 3am Costello enjoyed a comfortable margin of 58 percent of the votes, and was the official winner by 6am, with 59 percent of the votes.)
A crowd including council candidates Scott Miller and Susan Nilmeir breezed through, along with two German tourists, who plopped down to enjoy the free sushi and the commotion.
Moe Ammar, of the Chamber of Commerce, walked in with a No on Measure I sweatshirt. Mayor Morrie Fisher, who did not run for re-election, walked over to Costello, shook his hand and said, “Hi Mayor.” Costello, who says he’s usually in bed by nine, was up an hour past his bedtime. He says that if elected, his first order of business as mayor will be to get the council up to speed, then work on finishing the city’s storm drain program, tackling the city’s ancient sewer system, and finding ways to keep tourists in town year-round.
“I’ve always been able to work with almost anyone,” he says. “I’ve sat next to people on the council with views totally different than mine and I’ve enjoyed working with them.”