When a friend was awakened last Wednesday morning by the clock-radio voice of a local DJ announcing election results, she was bewildered to learn that, since the contest was a primary and few candidates had achieved the 50-percent-plus-one necessary to win outright, very little had been settled the previous night. "Wait," she said, groggy and confused. "You mean that wasn't the election?"
She was likely not the only Humboldt County voter to feel a twinge of hangover fatigue at the prospect of another five months of bushy-tailed electioneering, with the requisite chest-puffery, pseudo-righteous indignation and anono-blog snarkery that accompany it. Then on Thursday morning, an invigorating dose of intrigue: The Times-Standard reported that some 6,000 votes remained uncounted. Could Fourth District County Supervisor challenger Virginia Bass, who ended election night barely 1 percent shy of beating six-term incumbent Bonnie Neely, squeak out a victory? Could Fifth District candidate Pat Higgins vault the four percentage points necessary to overtake Patrick Cleary and face Ryan Sundberg in the runoff? Is scrappy Eureka Councilman Jeff Leonard really done?
OK, that one's easy: Yes, he is. And mathematically, the other scenarios are extreme long shots. (In case you're a gambler, County Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich told us Tuesday that she hopes to have the ballots tallied by next week. Ante up.) Which means it's time to settle back, breathe deep and take a gander at the survivors still standing in the electoral field. The DA match-up promises more fireworks, with rhetorically pugilistic Allison Jackson squaring off against incumbent (and tenuous liberal darling) Paul Gallegos. And the contest up in the Fifth has been jostled by the late-breaking curve-ball -- delivered low and inside -- of Sundberg's December DUI arrest.
But to this Dandy poseur (Hank's enjoying a well-earned family vacay), the most intriguing race remains the one for the county seat that represents the county seat -- i.e. District Four, which encompasses Eureka proper, Fairhaven and Samoa. Bass delivered perhaps the only genuine surprise of election night by nearly winning the thing outright. And while seasoned election veteran Neely should by no means be counted out, her battle for victory in November will be decidedly uphill, especially considering the party affiliation of the now-eliminated Leonard. By party affiliation I certainly don't mean Republican or Democrat. Applying those labels hereabouts will lead only to confusion. (Neely, whom lefties have grown to love and righties to revile, came into office as a Republican, albeit a moderate one, while Bass, who runs in the most conservative of Eureka circles, caused some double-take whiplash recently by switching to the Dems.) No, if there's a party affiliation that matters in Eureka it's PMCS versus PMCO -- that is, Perceived Marina Center Supporter versus Perceived Marina Center Opponent.
Myopic as this perspective may be, it has conveniently allowed Eurekans to follow the trajectory of the U.S. electorate at large, which, according to pundits, is as polarized as it's been since the 1890s. In Eureka the divergence can be attributed partly to the absurd length of this battle -- which, for you newcomers, concerns a proposed 43-acre, Home Depot-anchored mixed-use development on Eureka's Balloon Track property, a toxic former railyard -- and partly to the divisive tactics employed by the property owners: Security National/The Family Arkley.
The latest example of their "go big or go home" confrontation style came last month when Security National's Randy Gans announced at a Eureka City Council meeting that his company wanted the zoning change necessary for the development (among taller, more immediate hurdles) to be placed on the November ballot. The council later agreed, predictably, though only after city staff had repeatedly clarified that the question at hand concerned zoning, not explicitly the Marina Center. While that distinction might well have been lost on most voters (and perhaps it is irrelevant, ultimately), the whole issue became yet more politicized this week with the release of draft language for the ballot measure, which was set to be considered Tuesday night, as the Journal was going to press. There it was, stubbornly perched in the measure's wording: "Marina Center."
With the Marina Center ball currently in the court of the California Coastal Commission -- chaired by Neely, btw -- and a hot-button (if unnecessary) ballot measure sashaying its way through Eureka City Council -- moderated by Bass, Eureka's mayor, btw -- all we need is a ring girl, a ref and some boxing ropes. Let's get ready to rumble.