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The Race for 1st District


[photo of Chris Crawford]
The candidate: Chris "I-have-a-plan" Crawford, owner of Justice Served, an Internet-based court consulting business. Moved to the county six years ago.
Primary war chest: $40,000-$50,000, mostly his own. Says if he wins the primary he'll need help.
Issues: Biggest county problem? Lack of diversity in the economy. Eel River water? "It's an illegal taking. We need to create an economic system for Sonoma to pay us. CAMP? Outlived its usefulness. Use funds for meth.
Notable quotes: "Needle exchange? No. I've worked 27 years in the justice system. If I were an addict, I would look very favorably at moving to Humboldt County."
The buzz: Has a bagful of ideas, but is probably ahead of his time ... in this county anyway.
[Photo of John Fullerton]
The candidate: John Fullerton, 24-year resident, CPA.
Primary war chest: Has raised about $25,000. About 300 contributors gave $25-$50. Another 10 gave $100 to $500 plus about $1,500 from family. Most of the money came from 1st District residents.
Issues: Biggest county problem? Lack of good-paying jobs, remoteness, transportation. CAMP? Needles? No, no. Headwaters money? Spend half but not 'til I'm on the board."
Notable quotes: "I'm not in favor of locking up all the ($22 million) Headwaters money. But it's OK for now because people don't trust the Board of Supervisors to spend it wisely -- and I don't blame them."
The buzz: Best known for his partisan (some say strident) politics, a noncompromiser. Middle of the pack.
[photo of Lawrence Lazio]
The candidate: Lawrence "Laurie" Lazio, third generation, owner Lazio Gourmet Tuna.
Primary war chest: $15,000. Contributors include Robin Arkley Sr. and some cousins from San Francisco (the Lazios and Aliotos are related).
Issues: Biggest county problem? Water. Eel River water? Get it back, all of it. CAMP? Scale it back to a friendly cop with a gun.
Notable quotes: "One of the reasons I'm running is that everyone is always sitting around yapping about fisheries. I figured I know something about fisheries."
The buzz: Strong name recognition, but the fish company and restaurant are long gone.

[photo of Jimmy Smith]
The candidate: Jimmy Smith, 30-year veteran fisherman, third generation Humboldter.
Primary war chest: $20,000. Backed by most of the Democratic in-crowd including Rep. Mike Thompson and "obviously a lot of fishermen."
Issues: Biggest county problem? Lack of funding from state for county services. CAMP? Keep it local. If we don't we may get a repeat of the early '90s federal invasion. Trinity/Eel water? Keep pressure on to increase flows, but ultimatums won't work.
Notable quotes: "We have a lot of good people in this race. They all care. Do I sound wishy-washy?"
The buzz: How can you not like a guy named Jimmy Smith? Should finish near the top.
[photo of Walt Giacomini]
The candidate: Walt Giacomini, fourth generation cattle rancher.
Primary war chest: $40,000 which he had no trouble raising from agricultural community and timber growers.
Issues: Biggest county problem? The economy, lack of good-paying jobs. CAMP? Yes. Remember the early '80s when you had to make an appointment to enter your own land to brand cattle? Eel River fisheries? Lack of water is the problem, not watershed management. Watershed managers are "under siege."
Notable quotes: "One encouraging thing is all the candidates get along so well. Whoever loses is going to have a pretty good pipeline to whoever wins."
The buzz: Big endorsements and a well-managed campaign should help him finish strong.
[photo of Ginger Olsen]
Candidate: Ginger Olsen, dairy goat rancher, registered nurse, teacher. Resident of county for 20 years.
Primary war chest: Not much.
Issues: Biggest county problem? Attitude. And the lousy job we're doing on social service programs. More treatment. More compassion. Breakfast and lunch for children. Benefits for domestic partners. A citizens' review committee to review policing policies.
Notable quotes: "The best thing this county has going for it is the Human Rights Commission."
The buzz: Helped keep human issues on the table. "A" for effort, but this race is too crowded.
[photo of Carlos Benemann]
The candidate: Carlos Benemann, the feisty, sometimes table-pounding mayor of Ferndale and owner of bookstores in Ferndale and Eureka. Born in Germany during World War II, raised in Argentina, immigrated to California in 1961. UC Berkeley graduate, 24-year resident of the county.
Primary war chest: Less than $3,000.
Issues: Biggest county problem? Social services. Eel River water? Current board is spineless. Spend a few hundred thousand dollars and sue. CAMP? Just say no.
Notable quotes: "I have no fear speaking my mind. I am very good at making decisions, including unpopular ones."
The buzz: Most colorful, very bright but tends to alienate rather than build coalitions. A dark horse, but could do well because of his door-to-door campaigning.

CARLOS BENEMANN, OWNER OF BOOKSTORES IN FERNDALE and Eureka and mayor of Ferndale, is running a decidedly low-tech campaign. He's walking door to door -- to 6,000 houses.

"My average on a good day is 120. On the weekend, maybe a little over 200. The weather has been very favorable. I started right after Christmas."

His wife, Marilyn, is very pleased. Benemann has lost six pounds and is looking quite trim.

"What's so important," Benemann said, "is not just to give constituents my message and shake hands, but I actually get a feeling of what their problems are -- their housing, their roads. I'm standing there and I see it."

Benemann is one in a crowded field with seven candidates for 1st District supervisor, a seat being vacated by Stan Dixon. It is a crucial race because Dixon, a moderate Democrat, has often been the swing vote on controversial issues.

In forums and debates held so far leading up to the March 7 primary, the main issues emerging are water return to the Eel River, what to do with the Headwaters money, and hot-button issues related to drugs: Should the county accept or reject funds for the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP)? And should the county establish a free needle exchange program to fight infectious diseases?

Benemann is fond of saying he is making no promises "except to work hard and to put my heart and soul into it," but then he launches right ahead with the promises.

"We have the right to challenge what's going on (with Eel River water diversion) and we're not doing it. ... We may need to spend a few hundred thousand (in attorneys fees) to go and get it, to fight for it. That will be my first issue," Benemann said.

And don't get him started on CAMP.

"The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting is a price-support system for marijuana, that's what it is. We are spending trained human resources on marijuana and in the meantime the back door is wide open and we are getting swamped by hard drugs."

There are two supervisors on the board, Roger Rodoni and John Woolley, who already oppose CAMP. Benemann promises to be a third.

How about economic development efforts including how to use the $22 million from the Headwaters Forest agreement?

"Issues related to business and the economy are already being handled by a myriad of agencies," he said. In fact, Benemann represents Ferndale on several of them, including the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission.

But he thinks attention is being diverted to the Headwaters money and away from the real issues such as how to improve social services.

"We need to deal with issues of public health, mental health, child services.

"We have some very good candidates, but frankly, some are making promises they cannot keep," Benemann said.

The candidate he specifically names is Chris Crawford, a court management consultant who moved to Humboldt County six years ago.

Crawford says it's not easy to explain exactly what his company, called Justice Served, and others like it do and how they contribute to the North Coast economy. One of his recent projects, consulting for a court system in Hong Kong, was a $1 million contract. He used three or four other local Internet-based companies as subcontractors and other companies elsewhere.

"I have no employees. This is what the new economy looks like. Some people think these companies are not contributing to the economy like a traditional retailer or manufacturer, but that's not true."

As to why he is running for supervisor, Crawford said:

"I am sick and tired of the total lack of leadership on technology issues Up until this time the major skill you needed to serve on the Board of Supervisors was the ability to slash and burn. The state has been bleeding us dry, cutting programs, cutting services. ... Now you are asking for an entirely different set of skills. We are sitting on $22 million ... to change the dynamics of the community and to diversify the economy. The question is, How are we going to do it?"

Crawford, who is largely financing his own primary campaign to the tune of $40,000, has a seven-point plan, detailed in a 12-page booklet. Its cornerstone -- point No. 1 -- is how to start, nurture and grow technology-based businesses by improving telecommunications infrastructure, work force training and by creating a "capital access corporation" to provide loans to businesses and even outright grants.

Crawford's other ideas include boosting tourism by guaranteeing bed-tax dollars for the county visitor bureau, establishing a grant and contracts department to seek and manage grant funding and a college scholarship program for any Humboldt high school student. It would be partially forgiven if the student returns to the county to work following graduation.

Some of his proposals, he admits, are controversial, such as contracting out to private companies (who can do it "better, faster, cheaper") for some county services beginning with data processing. ("They haven't called it that for 15 years!")

And then there is his suggestion to do away with the railroad as we know it.

"I'm all in favor of harbor development. We should do everything we can to shore up the fishing industry and tourism. But do not tell me that in the 21st century we are relying on 19th century technology. ... We cannot compete with Portland and Oakland (for containerized cargo)."

Crawford said the rail should be repaired and maintained within the county to link a truck terminal with barge traffic, but as to the rail line south of Scotia through the Eel River Valley:

"We should rip the rail out, make it a hiking and biking trail, and we should have hostels along the way. This could be the most righteous ecotourism destination -- in the world," he said.

Ginger Olsen certainly takes issue with Crawford's idea to get a business to provide some county services.

Today Olsen wears many hats. She is a registered nurse and teacher, runs a private drinking-driver rehab program called Humboldt Addictions Services Programs, and is co-owner of a 160-goat dairy. But a decade ago, when the county contracted with a private company, Kingsview, for mental health services, Olsen was the most vocal critic.

"They spent a bunch of money, took many good employees and left," she said. "They closed several mental health rehabilitation programs, a violent-children's program and they closed the independent mental health homes."

On the issues of Eel River water, Olsen said she supports the Round Valley Indian Tribe proposal, which would return the largest flow at this time for the in-river fisheries. "I'm in favor of returning as much water as it takes to restore the salmon, but once they're back we should be big enough to share" with Sonoma County water users.

Olsen said she would refuse CAMP money. "It doesn't work," and she strongly favors the needle-exchange program.

"We need to increase treatment, prevention and education.

"My campaign is really about human rights. County employees should have equal pay for equal work. And yes, we should have domestic partners benefits."

Olsen said she entered the race late because she would not have run against Dixon.

Another late-entering candidate and long-time supporter of Dixon is Jimmy Smith, a 30-year veteran fisherman who has served the 1st District on the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District since 1995.

While serving as a commissioner and as president of the harbor district, Smith helped implement the harbor deepening project, worked to develop the plan that led to the cleanup of the south spit and he participates regularly in the Eel-Russian rivers commission to return water to the Eel. He is also an alternate on the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission.

[map of 1st District}

"Why did I run? I'm doing a lot of that work now. I have learned to be patient, to listen to people, to be considerate of the public," he said.

"You can go in there tomorrow and demand that they take out the water diversion (the dam on the Eel). We would all like to see that happen, but it is unlikely," he said.

"My approach is like what the county is doing now, to work (to increase) interim flows with the ultimate goal to end water diversion" and to restore the damaged watersheds.

Smith is probably the candidate with the most experience working with government agencies at all levels. He is the legislative liaison for the Humboldt Fishermen Marketing Association, chair of the Salmon Stamp projects and serves on the Trinity River Task Force.

Smith said he is particularly worried about Trinity water right now because of the pressure from Southern California water interests.

"My fear is the Central Valley Project Water Association is not going to like (Interior Secretary Bruce) Babbitt's preferred alternative, that they are going to file suit, and it will be tied up in court for a long, long time."

Even though this is a nonpartisan race, Smith has the backing of many key Democrats including Rep. Mike Thompson, who personally contributed $1,000 to the $20,000 Smith has raised for this race.

Walt Giacomini, who raises cattle in Loleta and on leased land throughout the 1st District, said he didn't have any trouble raising the $40,000 he is spending in the primary. When you look at his list of supporters it's clear why. Among them are the pillars of the agricultural and timber communities in the county -- names like Coppini, Ford, Gunderson, Hunt, Rice, Russ, Schmidbauer, Westfall and Timmons.

Giacomini said he decided to run because he has had a very positive experience on the Fortuna High School Board.

"I like to think I am capable of getting things done. Coupled with the fact that I see the county adrift. We all complain that our kids can't find jobs here (after college.) We need to do something."

Concerning the Headwaters money, Giacomini said he agrees the interest should be spent on economic development. He would even consider using some of the principal to acquire land and develop infrastructure for business or industrial parks with lots that are later resold. He is not in favor of direct business loans.

"It's my experience that it's not that hard to borrow money."

Giacomini said he agrees with Benemann that the current board of supervisors probably hasn't fought hard enough for the return of the Eel water. Unlike Benemann, he thinks watershed managers are for the most part not to blame for the fisheries collapse in the river.

"The bigger threat to the fish is the water quantity problem, not water quality," he said. "It's a lot easier to hammer the individual watershed manager. Right now it's the biggest threat to the economy of Humboldt County, and people aren't even aware of it."

Giacomini said his business expertise is his strongest qualification to be supervisor.

"I think in the past we have lacked supervisors with a business background. Nearly all the candidates are very knowledgeable in some area, but they tend to be more specialized. I am more of a generalist.

"I don't own a computer business, but I use technology extensively in my business. I'm not an expert in fish, but I've been involved in watershed management programs and stewardship programs for a long time."

John Fullerton, a certified public accountant and community volunteer who has lived in Humboldt County for 24 years, also touts his business background. Like Giacomini, a Republican, he declared early in the race thinking he would be running against incumbent Dixon.

Fullerton has been on the South Bay School Board since 1993. He also has served on the Community Budget Task Force and the Budget Task Force for the county during recent financial crisis.

"My financial expertise is something all the other candidates lack," he said.

He is not in favor of "locking up all the Headwaters money." Eventually, he suggests half of the $22 million principal be spent, including $6 million for a marine terminal and $2 million for watershed rehabilitation.

Fullerton is also the most outspoken candidate on drug issues.

"Dope growers are the scourge of society. They need to be stopped. CAMP excesses may be inconvenient, but the people we should be mad at are the growers," he said.

As to a free-needle exchange program, he says "absolutely not."

The candidate with most name recognition by far is Lawrence "Laurie" Lazio. He is even using the widely recognized logo from the family business -- a short fisherman in rain gear holding a fish -- in his campaign.

Lazio was president and CEO of the Tom Lazio Fish Co. as well as the popular Lazio's Seafood Restaurant that operated at the foot of C Street on the Eureka waterfront. He took over the family business in 1961 when he was 24 years old and for years he "was signing 350 paychecks a week."

But in 1980 the New England Fish Co., one of the largest in the country, went bankrupt and shook the entire industry. Seventeen companies eventually failed, Lazio said, but his company survived.

"Then the federal government took away the salmon season in Northern California. Next was El Niño. We had four disastrous years in the industry."

Lazio sold the troubled business and the bank ended up with the property on the waterfront. Eventually Lazio moved the restaurant to a building he owned on 2nd Street. The restaurant was sold in 1995 and later closed.

Today he operates Lazio Gourmet Tuna, a marketing company with three employees that purchases, cans and sells premium albacore tuna. He is also a business consultant.

Lazio said the county should develop a business park similar to the one in Arcata to encourage small start-up companies, especially those that are technology-based. He agrees with the current board that the Headwaters money should be saved as an endowment with only the interest being spent. And, he said, he also favors hiring a full-time grant proposal writer for the county to seek additional revenue.

But his big issue is the decimated fishing industry and what can and should be done to restore it. Lazio calls for the return of all water to the Eel and Trinity rivers, is critical of the state Department of Fish and Game for not fully funding the Blue Lake Hatchery which is operating at 40 percent capacity due to budget constraints, and he favors more hatchery-reared and released fish programs like those in Japan.

"The Eel River is in total collapse. The introduction of the pike minnow (squawfish) is a disaster," Lazio said. He proposes that the state establish a bounty on the fish to reduce its population.

On drug issues, Lazio said he is in favor of the needle exchange program and is undecided about whether CAMP funding should continue.

"I am concerned with the overexuberance issue by the sheriff's department. The game warden is just one guy and a gun. He doesn't need helicopters and a SWAT team."

Lazio and the rest of the candidates say it is most likely the March 7 vote will result in a run-off. They also expect a good turnout -- not because of the issues facing the district, but because Californians finally have a chance to help determine party nominees for president come Super Tuesday.

Editor's note: Deadline for letters to the editor for the March 2 edition is noon Monday, Feb. 28.

Let us know who you're voting for and why.

Comments? E-mail the Journal: ncjour@northcoast.com

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