Key Races Await More Counting – June 16, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Daniel Mntz

Eye Correspondent

HUMBOLDT – Vote-counting in the June 8 primary elections is ongoing but it appears that several key contests will be decided in November.

Undersheriff Mike Downey will be the county’s next sheriff, however, gaining a 67 percent majority vote over DA Chief Investigator Mike Hislop.

Runoff elections will decide who will be the county’s district attorney, Fifth District supervisor and assessor. The status of the fourth district supervisor election is more tenuous because one of its candidates is close to the 50 percent vote mark.

There are more than 6,000 countywide absentee and provisional ballots left to count. It could be another two weeks before certainty is achieved with the election results.

In the Fifth District supervisor election, Ryan Sundberg, a member of the Trinidad Rancheria Tribal Council, got 2,278 or 39.43 percent of the vote. Former Headwaters Fund Board Chairman Patrick Cleary got 30.58 percent with 1,767 votes.

Humboldt Bay Harbor District Commissioner Patrick Higgins is in third place, with 1,529 or 26.46 percent of the vote. Contractor Jeffrey Lytle has 3.41 percent with 197 votes.

The counting of the remaining votes could change the content of a Fifth District runoff, as it’s possible that Higgins could ultimately get more votes than Cleary.

Cleary and Higgins shared the election’s progressive vote. Sundberg is seen as a conservative candidate, as much of his considerable financial support has come from developers, realtors and construction-related businesses.

But in an interview, Sundberg said his “connection with the district” through being a lifelong resident of McKinleyville is what contributed to his vote-getting, along with a platform that emphasized job creation, affordable housing and quality of life.

“I consider myself a moderate,” he said. “I’ve gotten support from very liberal people, to conservatives to everything in between.”

Sundberg’s lead in the primary doesn’t necessarily make him a favorite for November. If Cleary’s second place showing holds, he’s expected to attract most of Higgins’ support base and some voters could be put off by the news of Sundberg’s no contest plea to a DUI charge two days before he announced his candidacy for supervisor.

Asked if he thinks it will have an impact on the November election, Sundberg said he hopes it won’t. “I’m hoping people will realize that I made a bad mistake and I take full responsibility for it,” he continued. “It will never happen to me again and I’ve removed alcohol from my life.”

Is it a valid campaign issue? Sundberg doesn’t think so. “I want to stick to the issues and run a positive, clean campaign,” he said.

So does Cleary. Asked about Sundberg’s DUI, he declined comment except to say, “It’s not something I plan to be talking about.”

Cleary said the election results “are pretty close to what I was expecting.” The close margin between himself and Higgins was not surprising, he continued. “I’m pretty sure Pat Higgins and myself have a lot of common support,” Cleary said.

In the DA election, incumbent Paul Gallegos’ vote count stands at 11,207 or 39.72 percent of the vote. Former County Prosecutor Allison Jackson got 10,448 votes, about 37 percent of the total.

Paul Hagen, a former environmental prosecutor who worked in Humboldt and other counties, got 5,229 votes, 18.53 percent of the total.

Local Attorney Kathleen Bryson, who ceased her campaign several weeks before the election, got 4.61 percent of the vote.

The uncounted votes won’t change the upshot of the DA election results – Gallegos and Jackson will run against each other for the November vote. Hagen was seen as a splitter of the vote for Gallegos, so the incumbent is going into November as the favorite.

Hagen, however, may endorse Jackson, as both respect each other and share the same views about the incumbent.

In the Fourth District supervisor election, Eureka Mayor Virginia Bass is close to winning outright, with 48.83 percent or 2,335 votes. Incumbent Supervisor Bonnie Neely’s vote count is at 1,455, 30.43 percent of the vote.

Eureka Councilmember Jeff Leonard’s grassroots campaign delivered only 977 votes, 20.43 percent of the total. Leonard probably diverted more votes from Bass, so Neely will have some work to do if the remaining vote count confirms a runoff election.

Incumbent County Assessor Mari Wilson was the top vote-getter in the Assessor election, with 39.31 percent of the vote or 10,834. Former County Supervisor Johanna Rodoni is in second place with 34.48 percent or 9,504 votes. Realty appraiser Jon Brooks got about 26 percent of the vote.

Wilson is the favorite for November, as Brooks had progressive support and Rodoni shares some of the same financial supporters as Sundberg and Bass. Brooks’ votes are likely to lean toward Wilson.

Carolyn Crnich, who ran unopposed and remains the county’s clerk and registrar of voters, said that 3,000 yet-to-be-counted absentee ballots came into the Elections Office on June 7 and June 8. Some 2,800 more were dropped off at polling places on election day and they are also uncounted.

There are also about 550 provisional ballots – those whose eligibility needs to be confirmed – left to count.

The number of ballots counted as of press time was 29,381, said Crnich.

She said her original estimate of one to two weeks for counting the remaining ballots may have been “a little optimistic.”

So the election isn’t over. “There’s a lot of work left to be done,” said Crnich.