Dan Cort whistles loudly through two fingers. A full house of Pacific Grove power players and buoyant supporters gathered at the Pelican Tavern turn to face him. In the crowd are former police chief and Airport Board candidate Carl Miller, Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Bennett, Planning Commissioner Craig Riddell, and Councilmembers Susan Nilmeier and Daniel Davis. Cort climbs on top of a tall barstool and speaks.
“It’s not over,” he says. “But it’s certainly looking good.”
“He holds City Council meetings in the aisles at our store. That’s open government.”
It is 8:48pm. Moments earlier, poll numbers flashed along the bottom of the bar’s TV screen for the second time. Early returns have the incumbent Cort leading in a rout, with a full 57 percent of the first 2,500 votes, against 22 and 20 percent, respectively, for challengers Lee Yarborough and Susan Goldbeck.
Less than a half hour earlier, the exact same numbers had rolled across the screen. At that time, Cort and the assembled group also let out a chorus of cheers. As their voices bounced into the lofted ceilings at the Pelican, Cort turned from the TV and shared a short kiss with his wife Beth.
The cheers are also partly meant for Bennett, who holds a slim lead in her race for a seat on the City Council, and Miller, who enjoys a comfortable margin for one of two available Airport Board seats. (Both would go on to win.) The cheers are just two celebratory moments among many on an evening that feels like a bit like a coronation.
Grazing on gourmet Angus steak bites in brandy cream sauce and crispy fried calamari, the 75 political partiers sip wine and beer and talk happily of trust and accountability. Keith Decker, a longtime employee at Pacific Grove Hardware, is among them.
“He’s been in the trenches,” Decker says of Cort. “He holds City Council meetings in the aisles at our store. That’s open government.”
The apparent mayor-elect moves through the audience comfortably, nursing a dark ale and adding to the positive theme.
“Pacific Grove is going to be the great town it always has been,” he says from atop the barstool, “and better.”
Coming down from his perch beaming, Cort hugs his teenaged son Josh and then moves back into the party.
“Just keeping it sweet and short,” he says to no one in particular. “It’s early. That [result] could change.”
The smile on his face says something different.