Ready to Reload
Sheriff Mike Kanalakis and challenger Scott Miller head to a runoff after fiery primary.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Alittle after 8pm on election night, 40 to 50 Mike Kanalakis supporters – most of them white and over 50 – orbit around a generous spread of appetizers at Zeph’s One Stop in Salinas: kebabs, crudités, steamed artichokes, bruschetta bites.
Kanalakis, looking sharp in a charcoal suit, says he’s excited but a bit nerve-wracked as the polls close. The two-term incumbent has been through elections before, but this campaign has gotten particularly nasty – first with his own former officer, Fred Garcia, challenging his leadership; then with former Pacific Grove police chief Scott Miller pulling close toward the end of the primary race.
“I GUESS VOTERS WANTED TO SEE MORE OF THE SHOW BETWEEN THE SHERIFF AND MR. MILLER.”
The sheriff’s campaign has increasingly focused on Miller, leading to a June 4 press conference in P.G., where Kanalakis questioned Miller’s 2003 departure from the small-town chief post. (Kanalakis says Miller was fired; Miller maintains he was forced to retire because of differences with the mayor.)
At Zeph’s, Kanalakis says he went on the offensive in response to Miller’s recent attacks. “It was a one-way conversation with the community,” he says. “I felt my voice wasn’t being heard.”
He goes on to stress the importance of the Joint Narcotics Task Force, which he says is critical for stanching the flow of money to Salinas-area gangs: “We need to have a leader who knows what he’s doing to continue the efforts that are out there.”
Just then his campaign manager, Brian Higgins, interrupts with a printout of the early election results. Kanalakis squints at the page; the shadow of a frown clouds his face. Then he looks up, and with a joyless smile says, “Put ’em up.”
Higgins trots off, and soon the numbers appear on a digital projector: With 30 percent of votes counted, Kanalakis leads at 39 percent. But Miller is right at his heels, with 37 percent; Garcia trails with 24 percent.
Kanalakis’ priest, Father John Kariotakis of the Greek Orthodox Church in Salinas, remains optimistic. Quoting a Green proverb, he says, “A good day begins in the morning” – meaning an early lead for Kanalakis is an indicator he’ll win the election.
Elizabeth Ward, a cocker-spaniel enthusiast at a nearby table, says she feels safer with Kanalakis in the sheriff’s post: “It’s an issue of trust.”
P.G. resident Sheila Doyle-Rickenbacker, who’s supported Kanalakis through three campaigns, says she became even more involved this time around because of her dissatisfaction with Miller as P.G. police chief. She supports Kanalakis’ view that Miller was fired rather than unfairly persecuted by the mayor. “If Scott was doing his job, the people would’ve been behind him,” she says.
By Wednesday morning, the semi-final vote report confirmed the earlier tally: Kanalakis (with 37 percent) will battle Miller (35 percent) in the November general election. Garcia, (almost 29 percent) is out of the race.
“I’m disappointed. We put our message out there,” Garcia says. “I think everyone got caught up in the last two weeks [in the fight] between the sheriff and Mr. Miller. I guess voters wanted to see more of the show.”
Miller isn’t surprised by the results. “This is kind of what I anticipated,” he says. “Hopefully the sheriff will avoid his deceptive attack ads and we can get on to issues of public safety affecting the county.”