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Notes from the Hustings 

Ticket to the Fights

Need more proof that this is going to be a bruiser of an election? The most recent round of financial disclosure tells the tale. Between Feb. 1 and March 17, candidates for local office collectively raised over a quarter of a million dollars, according to the Fair Political Practices Commission Form 460s that were filed in the county elections office Monday.

Going by sheer dollar volume, the race for Fourth District Supervisor seems to be gravitating toward its natural place at the top of the ticket. During this cycle, incumbent Bonnie Neely raised $43,259 in cash and non-monetary donations. Top donors? The Blue Lake Rancheria kicked in $10,000 to the Neely campaign last week, and fellow Coastal Commission member Steven Blank -- the chair of the California chapter of the Audubon Society -- chipped in another two large. Former District Attorney Terry Farmer, Neely's husband, loaned the campaign $5,000. Attorney Zach Zwerdling gave $1,300, and McKinleyville forester Michael Atkins and the Humboldt Redwood company each gave $1,000. On the other side of the ledger, Neely spent around $10,000 on political consulting and research -- $4,000 to Sacramento political consultants Duffy & Capitilo and $6,000 to EMC Research, a Seattle pollster.

Neely's main competitor (at least insofar as the money game is concerned) is Eureka Mayor Virginia Bass. She raised only $24,315 in this disclosure period -- but that's on top of the $53,000 she accumulated in January. Bass is showing lots of donations in the $200-$1,000 range, with a couple of outliers: Regular donors from the conservative side of the aisle like auto dealer Harvey Harper ($2,000), property developer Steve Stromberg ($1,500) and others gave a little more. Humboldt Redwood, hedging the bet, also gave a grand to Bass. At the moment, Neely has the slightly larger war chest -- $39,149 cash on hand to Bass' $33,159.

Eureka City Councilmember Jeff Leonard better be concentrating on his ground game, because his fundraising efforts are a dismal third in this race: Just $2,728 raised since February, and only $838 in the bank.

Weirdness abounds in the District Attorney race. Incumbent Paul Gallegos is the fundraising champion in this period, with $27,093 taken in -- however, $20,000 of that was from a loan from a David Gallegos of Weston, Fla. David G. also chipped in a $5,000 donation. Gallegos also appears to be outsourcing his campaign -- the physical address for his campaign committee is a West Hollywood office apparently belonging to a political consultancy called "ML Associates." Meanwhile, the DA candidate with the least name recognition -- former prosecutor Kathleen Bryson -- has, according to her disclosure forms, apparently accomplished the very unusual trick of raising $8,450 in increments of less than $100 while taking in only $300 in donations above that amount. Bryson has also loaned her campaign $5,000. Fellow challengers Paul Hagen ($10,347 raised) and Allison Jackson ($13,674) are close to neck and neck, though Hagen got there with the help of $7,400 in loans from himself and his campaign treasurer, Eureka conservationist Maggie Herbelin.

If there's a surprise in this round of disclosure forms, it's the massive amount of money flowing into the downticket race for Humboldt County Assessor. Eel River Valley political force Johanna Rodoni raised a whopping $21,473 in her campaign for this unglamorous office, mostly through sub-G contributions from the historic Rodoni donors. Challenger Jon Brooks is far behind, raising $6,595, including a $2,000 boost from the Blue Lake Rancheria. Assistant Assessor Mari Wilson, who must have thought herself the heir apparent, is left in the dust by this sudden intrusion -- the forms say she took in $6,315, but most of that was Wilson spending her own money on the campaign.

Last quick note, because we're running out of both time and space: The Blue Lake Rancheria, as expected, went in big on the race for Fifth District Supervisor -- but it went in two ways at once. The rancheria, by far the largest single donor in recent election cycles, gave $5,000 each to Patrick Cleary, a Blue Lake Rancheria business partner, and Ryan Sundberg, a member of the Trinidad Rancheria.

Want more? Want to take a gander for yourself? We'll be posting a complete box set of this week's Form 460s, as well as extended analysis, at the North Coast Journal Blogthing sometime this week, just as soon as we figure out if there's anything we're legally required to redact. Go to the Web site and click on "Blog" -- or just Google it, for Christ's sake.

WEB EXTRA: Click here for links to the financial disclosure documents.

-- Hank Sims

Cleary Channel

Last Thursday evening, in front of a baker's dozen people in the wood-paneled interior of the Blue Lake Grange, Patrick Cleary, Fifth District candidate for Humboldt County Supervisor, leaned jauntily against the podium at his side and introduced himself. "I'm a businessman," he said. "I've been a businessman for 31 years. You can either say I'm a businessman with a heart or a musician with a day job."

Rosy cheeked, round faced and prone to surprising bursts of staccato laughter, Cleary is a former -- or "recovering," as he says -- Manhattan investment banker who now revels in the slower pace and natural beauty of Humboldt County, where he's lived since 1997. President of Lost Coast Communications, the local radio group that includes KHUM, KSLG and "The Point," Cleary presented himself as a pragmatist, promising to address topics that are often ignored or given short shrift in the halls of county government, like water and sewer infrastructure, skilled workforce training and redundant broadband Internet access. "I don't think we talk about the real issues," he said.

He also vowed to make county government more business friendly without compromising the environment. Citing Bob Simpson's plans to reopen the Samoa Pulp Mill and Stephen Pepper's proposal to launch short-sea shipping in Humboldt Bay ("New Wave," Nov. 20, 2008), Cleary said government officials should meet such entrepreneurs halfway. "There's nobody, particularly with county government, sitting down with businesses and saying, 'How can I help you get your business going?'" he said.

And he's seen plenty of local business proposals. Until this year, Cleary served on the board of the Headwaters Fund, the county's $20 million economic development kitty, created after Pacific Lumber Company's 1999 sale of old growth forest to the state and federal governments. "Over the course of seven years we invested $13 million into the county -- helping the fishing industry, expanding the airport, supporting grass-fed beef -- and at the same time we actually grew the fund. I don't know quite how we did that," he said with a sly smile.

Throughout the evening Cleary appeared loose, inviting questions to make him "squirm" and tossing off folksy pearls of wisdom. Like this one: "When people say, 'It's jobs versus environment,' to me it's kinda like [saying], 'Did you walk to school or bring your own lunch?' It doesn't have to be either-or."

The rugged Blue Lakers in attendance were a savvy bunch, scrutinizing Cleary from their metal folding chairs. Naturally wary of government types (a few joked before the meeting about ways to mess with the U.S. Census), they peppered Cleary with questions about rail banking (he supports it), the General Plan Update (he likes infill development and decried the polarized dialog on the issue) and the Richardson Grove highway widening project (he said it's practical but ultimately a Caltrans decision).

If anyone disagreed with Cleary's positions, they didn't show it. However, he doesn't expect that tone of civility to last. "I think you're going to hear a lot of ugly things in this election," he said. "There's a lot of money being raised [and] there's gonna be a lot of soundbites."

-- Ryan Burns

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