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May 18, 2006
by BOB DORAN
DANIEL PIERCE SAT IN HIS
car in the parking lot outside the KEET-TV studios, his long
black hair pulled back tight in a ponytail revealing temples
gone silver, fiddling with an old accordion file large enough
to hold several reams of paper. At a glance it seemed he had
been brushing up on his homework in advance of that evening's
League of Women Voters' candidate's forum.
"Are you ready to have
some fun?" he asked a pair of arriving journalists, as if
having fun was the reason he was in the race for the 5th District
Supervisor seat. He hinted he had some surprises prepared that
would inject levity into the usually staid affair. As it turned
out, the accordion file was not full of papers; it disguised
props Pierce would roll out (literally) while delivering his
Inside, when the cameras
were rolling, he began his introductory remarks by noting that
this was his second run for supervisor. Declaring, "I can
fix anything, drive anything, build anything" he launched
into a screed about how we're "getting screwed by the oil
companies," punctuating his observations with a finger pointed
at the camera.
That's when he pulled out
the stops (and the props), first opening an umbrella, which he
threw off the edge of the platform to represent turbines that
might capture energy from ocean waves. Then a radio-controlled
car zoomed off the edge of the table and landed in the umbrella,
apparently a visualization of his "energy efficient dream."
He concluded saying, "I'm trying to be a bit of a showman
here — and show people the truth."
In the 2002 primary for the
5th District seat, Pierce came in last in a field of six. Jill
Geist came in first, and then went on to win the November runoff
election, beating the more conservative Ben Shepherd with help
from Paul Gallegos' former campaign manager, Richard Salzman.
Geist parted ways with Salzman not long after the election when
the recall campaign against Gallegos was brewing and she refused
to take a stand against it. "He was playing weird games;
there was weirdness all around," she said of Salzman.
At the LWV forum, Geist described
herself as "one who does her homework, a fiscal conservative
who seeks community input." She then went on to claim that
her first term as supervisor showed that she "strives to
ensure strong representation and equal distribution of county
resources" — an assertion that would soon be challenged
by her opponents. Geist's near legendary tendency to speak too
fast was in evidence, as was her wonk-like penchant for acronyms
and bureaucratic jargon.
Wearing a brown coat almost
identical to Geist's, fisheries biologist Patrick Higgins (who
is perhaps equally wonkish) delivered his opening statement in
a measured voice, initially rolling out familiar progressive
themes: living wage jobs and affordable housing, but also explaining
that he was running because he sees "the prospect of sprawl"
coming to McKinleyville. Over the course of the evening he would
contend that the district lacks "assertive leadership,"
presenting himself as "a populist" and a more progressive
alternative to Geist.
Jeffrey Lytle, the only candidate
sporting a tie, jabbed at Geist from the right. Describing himself
as a soccer referee and a builder, "well adapted and well
versed to how the process works," he seemed uncomfortable
on camera, or perhaps unused to extemporaneous speaking. With
suppressed anger he declared that, "people are nor being
included" and that "communication is lacking."
While he also lashed out at the county planning department, his
primary complaint seemed to be that "people are not getting
their phone calls returned" by Geist. (In rebuttal, the
quick-talking supervisor claimed the problem stemmed from people
who "talk too fast when they leave their number.")
Opponents on the left contend
that Geist moved to the center-right after taking office, abandoning
her progressive base. Higgins, who supported Geist in 2002, faults
her lack of leadership, in particular in the area of planning.
He pointed out that a revision of the McKinleyville General Plan
was passed a month before she took office, "and since then
nothing has happened. We haven't gotten the visionary planning
that was promised. I don't think she has the capacity to stop
the building juggernaut that looks like it's going to overrun
McKinleyville." Higgins is calling for the promised establishment
of a Municipal Advisory Committee to ensure that planning decisions
follow guidelines established under the revised plan.
Candidates from both sides
complain that Geist straddles the fence on issues, refusing to
state her opinion one way or another. At the forum she seemed
to waffle on the campaign finance initiative, Measure T, which
was strongly supported by Higgins and Pierce and attacked by
Lytle. Geist also refused to take a solid position on the proposed
redevelopment plan, saying she is "remaining objective."
(Lytle and Pierce both strongly attacked redevelopment citing
the impact on fire districts; Higgins described it as "essential,"
but had reservations about the inclusion of Samoa.)
In a later interview, Geist
defended her fence straddling. "People contact me and say,
`Can you take a position on this?' I explain that it's important
that you don't weigh in with an opinion until a project
has gone through the process. That would show you have made a
prejudgment outside of the public process. People [need to] understand
why elected officials seem hesitant to render an opinion on something
that is still being considered for a decision," she said.
What decision will the voters
of the Fifth make come Election Day? The race is Geist's to lose.
It remains to be seen whether avoiding stands on issues that
divide voters will prove a politically expedient strategy.
Higgins remains confident
that he can win, but his professorial tone may put some voters
off, and Lytle may seem too green, something that a couple of
terms on the MCSD might solve. There is certainly a chance that
candidates from the right and the left could siphon off enough
votes to prevent Geist from winning approval of a clear majority,
thus forcing a November run-off.
And don't completely discount
the Pierce factor. One 5th District voter polled over the weekend
said she would vote for him because of his off-the-wall performance
on the televised forum. "He was wild," she said with
enthusiasm. "I'm voting for him!"
Supervisor candidates gather their friends
Some voters like a parade
— they pay attention to where you are in the procession, who's
on your float, or even whose float you're directly behind. Others
will vote strictly along party lines. And lots of folks will
actually listen to what you say you're going to do if you get
And then there are those
who form their impression of the candidates — in this instance,
the three running for 4th District Supervisor, incumbent Bonnie
Neely and challengers Richard Marks and Nancy Flemming — by
checking out their endorsements.
a homeboy with tidy brown long hair and close-cropped mustache
and beard, is the underdog. Unlike his two opponents, he hasn't
held political office, and his list of endorsements doesn't pop
and sizzle with names from the ranks of big-money, big-land,
or big-politico fame. He's the only Democrat running in the 4th
District race — and while that shouldn't matter because it's
a non-partisan race, it sort of does. His Democrat-ness was made
all too apparent at a Eureka Republican Women-sponsored debate
last month, in which he was pointedly not invited to perform.
(He was in the audience, though).
In the Rhododendron Parade
last month, Marks' entourage fell in behind the towering "Women
of the Moose" float (balloons, moose head) near the tail
end of the procession. Marks walked the whole way, handing out
ice-cold Otter Pops to the kids and then, when those ran out,
candy. Beside him trundled one of his campaign managers, Rich
Mostranski, in a red-white-and-blue-ribbon bedecked gray convertible
VW Rabbit. The Marks camp looked low-key and scrappy — as befits
a guy who refuses corporate cash, plans to knock on 10,000 doors
(he and his crew have done 4,000 so far) and backs Measure T
(which would ban contributions to local campaigns from outside
Marks is selling himself
as a middle class dad, husband and millworker — a chip systems
operator, certified weigh master, to be specific — who has held
down a job at the pulp mill in Samoa for 26 years. He says he
wants to bring more manufacturing jobs to the county as a way
to provide more people with the living wages they can use to
buy a house. And he says he'd like to see Humboldt County's natural
resources developed in the county instead of being packed off
raw to boost someone else's economy. "If a tree is cut down
in Humboldt County, it shouldn't leave this county without being
a finished product," he says. And that includes the pulp,
which currently gets shipped off to China to be made into paper
A union member since 1973,
Marks has made his mark as an organizer. In 2002, for instance,
he led a successful drive to organize about 700 workers at Dart
Container, a Styrofoam cup manufacturing facility in Corona,
Calif. "It was the biggest union victory in the manufacturing
sector in years on the West Coast," Marks says.
Oddly, he hasn't received
any union endorsements to speak of — some unions have kept their
leanings to themselves, many others have thrown their caps into
the ring of the incumbent Neely. He does have the support of
two individuals with union connections: Dave Wiseman, president
of the Building and Construction Trades Council; and Steve Harris,
district representative for the Operating Engineers Union Local
"It's just a personal
endorsement," says Harris. The union, he says, is waiting
until after the primary to take sides. Harris says he likes Marks'
living-wage stance, his "local-hire" agenda, "and
the fact that he comes from labor, and that he knows what it's
like to fight the good fight for people in Humboldt County. As
a like-minded person, it would be a shame for me not to support
The rest of the list contains
only a few semi-household names. There's Shane Brinton, 19 and
co-chair of Marks' campaign, who, last year, won a seat on the
Northern Humboldt Union High School District Board, beating a
couple of other contenders including local builder Dan Johnson
of DANCO Builders. "I do like that he's talking about jobs,
because I'm a young person, and it is hard to find a job in Humboldt
County — something that pays more than $8 an hour," says
Brinton's mom, Susan, also
is a Marks supporter. The Eureka Greens are on the list. And
so is Les Rastorfer, a case manager with the Mobile Medical Office,
which brings health care to the street. There are three members
of Marks' family, and a number of other individuals of every
stripe, Green, Democrat, Republican.
At Brinton's urging, Marks
has taken his campaign onto myspace.com, that free-wheelin',
bare-all domain of young people. The 46 friends he's acquired
there are a range of 20- and 30-somethings. There's 20-year-old
Cali (whose latest blog entries are titled "fuck,"
"why," "fucking bronchitis," "tired,"
and "life in general") and 32-year-old Clinton, whose
introductory blurb starts like this: "I'm pissed off about
the future energy plan in this country and I am going to do something
about it. I'm sick of hipocritical (sic) mega-consumers that
preach the evils of capitalism." There's Glory, Poison Kandy,
Tom, Colt the Man, Dale and Dylan, Young Democrats of America,
Wanna Fuck, among others. One suspects this myspace strategy
comes with its perks and, um, challenges.
She was Eureka's
mayor from 1990 to 2002, during which the city charged into its
General Plan update. Flemming credits her tenure as chairman
of the city of Eureka's Redevelopment Board during those years
with the cleaning up of Eureka's waterfront and the re-invigoration
of Old Town. She also served on the California Coastal Commission
for a number of years while she was mayor.
Flemming's campaign style
exudes an almost giddy youthfulness: In debates she wears a long-sleeved
black T-shirt with her campaign website printed on it in white
letters, a glittery cross pendant around her neck. With her short
blonde pixie haircut and the nervous body wiggle that she does
when she speaks, she comes across as girlish. She is an artist
— you can find her landscape and floral paintings in local art
shows — and lives off-the-grid on Indian Island with her tugboat-captain
husband. She talks in a high, slightly wavery voice about how,
under her leadership, Eureka started recognizing all the multi-faceted
assets of its waterfront: "The inner reach, so good for
recreation; the outer reach, our deep water port." She'll
tell you how she arrived in Eureka in 1972, "a 20-something
mother of two" who, as her website puts it, "brought
with her an irrepressibly sunny disposition, a style of dress
that can only be described as '50s New York ... and the gentle
southern manner of a home-grown Arkansas girl." She started
a coffee roasting business in Old Town before coffee roasting,
or Old Town, was cool. She's against Measure T, and doesn't fear
Rob and Cherie Arkley's retail plans for Eureka's former rail
yard, the Balloon Track, even though they include a Home Depot.
She says when detractors of the project say "No Growth,"
it means "no affordable housing" and "no jobs."
The Arkleys' proposal, she says, "is the best, smart growth
proposal that this community has seen in a long time." She
says she wants to do something about child abuse, drug abuse,
affordable housing, and acquiring cheap or free broadband access
Her endorsements? Well, right
away, you can see she's got the money-men, and women, in her
camp; a goodly number of them are Ingomar Club members. There
are four Arnots (law), four Harpers (autos), a couple of Arkleys
(you know), a Lazio (fish), a couple Grushkins, some Kramers,
a Crawford — a veritable Who's Who of Humboldt County. But note:
Flemming says she has put a $500 cap on campaign contributions.
She's also recruited some
big names from the local resource industry: George Schmidbauer
of Schmidbauer Lumber, as well as fisherman, horseman and Clam
Beach access proponent Dennis Mayo. Stanwood Murphy, whose family
started Pacific Lumber, also endorses her.
Murphy runs a deep-water
dock in Fields Landing, handling in-bound logs for sawmills and
"hog fuel" (wood waste for the power plant), and shipping
wood chips to British Columbia. He says he was impressed with
Flemming when she was mayor, and that she really helped him deal
with the Coastal Commission. "I had things in front of the
Coastal Commission, and Nancy took the effort to pick up the
phone and call me and say, `Woody, this is the way to deal with
this and you'll have no problem.'" Neely, he says, doesn't
take the time for him. "To get on their agenda takes weeks,
sometimes maybe a year." He says, for example, after the
9/11 attacks he put up a security fence around his business because
part of it is in the foreign trade zone. A neighbor complained
to the Coastal Commission, and a months-long argument ensued.
There also are some former
city council colleagues in Flemming's camp, including Connie
Miller and Jack McKellar — who both supported Neely back in
On the phone, Jack and Miriam
McKellar suffer almost a duet of a conniption talking about Flemming's
opponent Neely. "She's a turncoat, a goddamn traitor!"
shouts Jack. "She was going to back me for mayor, and then
she turned around and backed the other guy!" Miriam, taking
the phone from Jack, says more calmly that the reason they once
supported Neely, years ago, was "that she was the best we
could do at the time. And now we have Nancy. She did an excellent
job when she was mayor of Eureka. And politically, we see eye
to eye with her."
Jack, again, in the background. He gets back on the phone to
say why he likes Flemming. "She's got a lot of guts."
He figures she can stand up to the "goddamn environmentalists
[who] have run everyone off. There's no jobs now. The college
— it educates 'em up here, and then they just sit around, a
bunch of dummies." Miriam gets back on, says Neely's been
on the board too long. "I think she's become too closely
aligned with liberals." Like the current Eureka mayor, she
says — grrrr. "He's embarrassing," says Miriam. "He
shows up [to functions] in Birkenstocks and shorts, and late."
For two decades,
homegirl Neely — of the Neely Automotive family — has been
the 4th District's supervisor, and within that time frame she's
served a total of about eight years on the Coastal Commission.
While her opponents have touted their fresh perspective, Neely
doesn't actually come across as stale, at least in debates. During
her 20 years, plus six preceding ones when she was administrative
assistant to the board of supervisors, she seems to have acquired
an intricate bureaucratic know-how and a level of insider wonkery
that can slowly crush an opponent. When Neely takes the mic during
a debate, she answers the questions in a voice that is confident
and informed — though slightly sharp, even punishing. After
her opponents finish speeches filled with generalities about
affordable housing, better jobs and infrastructure improvements,
she casually raps out her accomplishments in those categories
and then projects them into the future.
Neely talks about smart growth,
and touts improving infrastructure, creating affordable housing,
preserving open space, and promoting "sensible economic
development" as her priorities. Noting that the county is
in the midst of hammering out a redevelopment plan, focusing
on rural and semi-rural, so-called "blighted" communities,
Neely sees redevelopment as the key to affordable housing. She
recently announced that she would work to increase the amount
of tax-increment redevelopment money that Eureka can set aside
for affordable housing from the required 20 percent to 30 percent.
She describes herself as industry friendly. "Our economic
development strategy is to grow our industries," she says.
For example, she says, Humboldt County secured a half-million
dollar grant to convert a dairy in Miranda to organic. "As
a result, we now have 13 organic dairies." She says she's
a fiscal conservative and a social and environmental moderate.
Neely's list of endorsements
is wide-ranging: fellow supervisors Roger Rodoni, John Woolley
and Jimmy Smith; Assemblymember Patty Berg; Congressman Mike
Thompson; Senator Wesley Chesbro; 10 of her fellow coastal commissioners;
fashion-slayer Eureka Mayor Peter La Vallee; Eureka City Councilmember
Chris Kerrigan; Humboldt School District Superintendent Garry
Eagles; Sun Valley Floral Farms president Lane DeVries; developer
Dan Johnson; the Blue Lake Rancheria (a first-ever endorsement
for the tribe); forester Gary Rynearson; the Humboldt Fisherman's
Marketing Association; Leonardo & Son Dairy. Five unions
have endorsed her: the carpenters and joiners, pile drivers,
plumbers and steamfitters, food and commercial workers, and electrical
workers. Sheriff Gary Philp, ranchers Joe and Karen Russ, Denver
and Judy Nelson and Tim McKay of the Northcoast Environmental
Center are on the list.
"You always ride the
horse you know the best," says Supervisor Roger Rodoni.
"I've worked with Bonnie since 1997. She knows the county
government inside and out, and sometimes it's amazing, her recall.
She's a virtual encyclopedia of county functions, history and
political institutions." Rodoni doesn't agree with Neely
on everything, he says. "My opinion of the planning director
is probably 180 degrees from hers. Bonnie's probably a little
further to the left than I'm always comfortable with. But, like
I said, you go with what you're familiar with. Someone you can
Wayne Sohrakoff, who serves
on the board of directors for the Humboldt Fisherman's Marketing
Association, says Neely has been most helpful in dealing with
the Coastal Commission. He believes it was her presence on the
commission that helped get a Humboldt Bay harbor dredging program
passed despite opposition from people worried about the dredge
spoils being dumped on a Samoa beach. "I just feel like
she's been here a long time, and she understands our needs. The
most important thing is for us to be able to move our boats.
I couldn't move my boat this morning to paint the other side,
because of the sediment in the boat basin."
Of course, Neely herself
wouldn't claim to have been an advocate for the fishermen
in her role as a Coastal Commissioner. At the Eureka Republican
Women's debate, she listened to Flemming claim that the county
needs "an advocate" on the commission. "It's a
quasi-judicial role," she scolded. "That would be entirely
inappropriate." So there.
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