Posted by: "HENCHMAN OF JUSTICE" | February 17, 2010

North Coast Journal 2006 5th District debate

On the cover North Coast Journal

COVER STORY  |  IN THE NEWS   |  DIRT   |  STAGE MATTERS
TALK OF THE TABLE  |  THE HUM  |  CALENDAR

May 18, 2006

Supes on: Incumbents and contenders in the 4th & 5th

by BOB DORAN


 

Supes debate with Jill Geist, Patrick Higgins, Daniel Pierce and Jeffrey Lytle

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 opening statement.

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!”

 Last edited on February 17, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Jeffrey Lytle – Humboldt County 5th District Supervisor candidate 

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