Post election: Morning-after quarterbacking
In the days immediately before and after last week's May 4 City Council election, the charges flew: intimidation, bribery, and– immaturity. Mercifully, fears of a dull election proved false.
No one seemed too surprised the three Dem candidates– incumbent Kevin Lynch, Kendra Hamilton, and David Brown– won the three open seats on council, despite last election's upset win by Republican Rob Schilling.
What did surprise? The huge margins.
"It was more than a landslide," crows Councilor Blake Caravati. "We tarred 'em."
Hamilton, Brown, and Lynch– in that order– all garnered over 3,000 votes each. Republican Ann Reinicke came in a distant fourth at 1,782 votes, followed by her running mate Kenneth Jackson with 1,557 votes. Independent Vance High trailed at 717. And of the 778 write-in votes, 700 of those went to Meredith Richards, who lost her party's nod for re-election back in February.
Local politicos agree that Schilling's election two years ago over Alexandra Searls by 84 votes– making him the first Republican on council in 16 years– shook the Democratic machine to its core.
The lesson learned, says party chair Lloyd Snook, was to nominate good candidates and support them. "That didn't happen before," he says, when Caravati and Searls were the candidates. "Two years ago, the candidates didn't like each other and disagreed," says Snook.
In fact, after the 2002 election, Searls told the Hook she wished she'd run an independent campaign and didn't feel like she gotten party support.
This year, the big difference, says Lynch, was that "we had a more solid team in place. It started with candidates who got along well, whose different strengths complemented each other."
Lynch seems unfazed at coming in third behind the new Dems on council. Frontrunner Hamilton won 3,465 votes to Lynch's 3,183.
There's some speculation that "the McGuffey thing"– his stance that the heavily city-subsidized McGuffey Art Center should be paying more rent– cost him a few votes among the arty crowd.
"I'm sure it did," he acknowledges, but he says it was a position shared by the other Democratic candidates. "We all said we had no intention of kicking artists out."
David Toscano, former mayor and Dem treasurer, admits the party had been "resting on its laurels for far too long." The party organized, created databases, and raised more money– close to $32,000– than ever before for a City Council race.
It targeted Democrats who tend to vote in national and state, but not local, elections. "From the primary in February, we identified about 4,200 people who are highly motivated," says Toscano. "There's no reason you can't capture a lot of that vote."
He sees the Dems "smashing victory" as an indication that "people are basically satisfied with the direction the city is going."
Ann Reinicke says she went into the race knowing she was the underdog: "I had no political connections and no false hopes."
She did think the race would be closer, especially after spending the day at the polls. "The response I was getting was so overwhelming," she says.
That feeling evaporated pretty quickly. "I actually got the call from the Daily Progress telling me I'd lost," she says.
Reinicke is a political novice no longer. "What I've learned is we're going to have to start before the nomination," referring to her own last-minute decision to run at the pleadings of Schilling and Republican chair Bob Hodous.
"I don't know if I'm going to run again, but whoever does will have more support than being thrown in at the last minute," Reinicke says.
The day after the election, Kenneth Jackson is ready to run again in two years. "The fact I got 1,500 people to say, 'Mr. Jackson, we heard you,' in two more years, I'll have another 1,500."
Jackson attributes the Democratic landslide to the party's "gung ho" efforts, including bringing out former Democratic mayors. "Anytime you pull out that much old school power– [Francis] Fife, [Nancy] O'Brian, [John] Conover.... When they come out of the woodwork, you know we put a scare in them."
Post election, Jackson complains that Democrats at the polls on Election Day allegedly snatched the sample ballot he passed out from the hand of a little old lady. "They were just rude," he says. "It made me feel better that I ran on ethics."
He adds, "For me to be the youngest, I thought the other candidates were acting childishly."
"Mr. Jackson was off the mark all over the place," says Caravati. "The coup de grace: calling the Democrats 'immature'."
Caravati says the Republicans ran a "poor" campaign. "They were all negative, with no solutions. The Democrats were very optimistic. We know what the problems are and we will solve them."
He cites the creationism flap, in which Reinicke reportedly said she supported teaching creationism in schools, as one factor in the race. "Thomas Jefferson almost came out of his grave and didn't go back until last night," he says.
Reinicke has denied that she believes creationism should be part of the science curriculum.
Caravati didn't take a Democratic victory for granted and says he worried about several factors, including "the Daily Progress losing its mind for a day" with its endorsement of Reinicke and Jackson.
Then there was the Vance High spoiler potential, and High's May 1 press release titled, "Council candidate bribed," in which he alleges David Brown called and offered him a position on an unspecified board seat if High withdrew from the race to prevent the independent from drawing votes away from Brown and Lynch.
"'Bribe' is the right word," insists High. "I'm willing to get a polygraph to prove it." He says Brown proposed a Sunday night announcement before the Tuesday election.
"I did call him," says Brown. "I did suggest if environmental issues were important to him, he might consider dropping out to avoid a Ralph Nader effect."
Brown says he encouraged High to stay involved with something like the streams committee, but he laughs when asked if that was a bribe, pointing out that the streams committee's work is nearly done.
"I was surprised after the phone call that he misunderstood," says the councilor-elect. "In retrospect, that was a really bad idea to call him."
In more post-election finger pointing, Rob Schilling accuses the Democrats of intimidation at the polls. "The word is that poll watchers were told to note people taking a long time voting, because they were probably writing in Meredith Richards' name," he says.
"That is patently absurd," blasts Caravati. "How would you do that and assuming you did, what would you do with the information?"
The voting machines did get curtains for the May 4 election. "I know we had some phone calls from voters concerned about privacy," says registrar Sheri Iachetta. "We thought this was a good time to implement curtains."
Disappointingly for Schilling, the election did not shift power and his status as lone Republican on council– nor is it likely to change his often-acrimonious relations with some of his fellow councilors.
"I don't insult people based on their party," says Schilling. "I hope the new councilors will have a different approach."
New triumvirate on City Council: Kevin Lynch, Kendra Hamilton, and David Brown easily hang on to the Democratic majority.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO