Up here in the second floor of the Omicini building, we can look out our big beautiful windows and watch life happen on the streets of Old Town. You hold in your hands the first issue produced in our incredible new offices, and we hope that it conveys some of the thrill we feel to work right here, smack dab in the center of the Humboldt County universe.
Business took me to Toronto for a few days last week. For once, the culture shock upon coming home wasn't quite as pronounced. We're full to the rim with charming towns, but Eureka is the only one of them that has justifiable pretensions to cityhood. On the plus side of the ledger, that means that we have street life, charming public spaces and real municipal politics, the latter of which is lacking everywhere else in the county. On the down side: We have real municipal politics. Or so some would say.
The nomination period doesn't close until next month, but it looks like the contest to become Eureka's next mayor is now pretty much set: It'll be former mayor Peter La Vallee versus current councilmember Frank Jager. A hot contest? Maybe not. Somewhat disappointingly, at least from an urbanist's perspective, the candidates seem to be preaching from the same platform: It is time, they both say, to return civility to political discourse in Eureka.
Tepid stuff, but not out of keeping with the role of the top dog in Eureka's weak mayor-style government. The mayor's most important duty, under the city charter, is running the council meeting, as well as serving as a general sort of figurehead for the town -- showing up with red ribbon and a big pair of scissors when any new business opens its doors. (Cough, cough.)
Jager, news of whose candidacy dribbled out into the blogosphere Tuesday, said that he felt he could overcome the rancor that some would call a natural byproduct of democratic government in a place where people don't agree about everything. "I'm just tired of the partisan politics that seem to permeate everything we do," he said. Arcata and Fortuna don't have that problem, Jager added: "They always work as a team. I don't see that happening here in Eureka."
For his part, La Vallee couldn't agree more. "I just think we need to set a tone that is professional and respectful," he said. "We've got so much divisiveness in the community. I think we can set a tone to be civil in our discourse."
In interviews, La Vallee and Jager reaffirmed that each likes and respects the other. Will their example filter down to their more hotheaded supporters (from the left and right, respectively)? Maybe that will be the true measure of how grown-up the town has become.
More on this next week, but we would be remiss if we didn't mention the California Democratic Party's criminally gutless decision to sidestep an endorsement of Proposition 19, the November initiative to legalize marijuana. Following similar anachronistic tut-tuts from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Barbara Boxer and gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, Dem party bigwigs at a convention last weekend voted 101-85 to withhold their thumbs-up to the legalization campaign.
According to some, this move was a play to reinforce the identically ill-conceived positions already taken by Feinstein, Boxer and Brown -- to reduce the cognitive dissonance between the party and its candidates, and put them all squarely on the side of dumb. "We're concerned that our candidates -- Jerry Brown, Barbara Boxer and others -- who have actually come out against this are going to be compromised," the Los Angeles Times recorded Santa Clara County delegate Steve Preminger as saying. "So we're going to get lost in a discussion about the merits of whether we should legalize or not, when, really, we the Democratic Party want to put all of our efforts into electing our ticket."
So, pace Preminger, it's not a question of the merits of the thing -- when is it ever? -- but rather a cold political calculation. Problem: In typical Dem fashion, the cold political calculation looks to be suicidal. There are exactly two groups of motivated voters in this election season: the teabaggers and the legalizers. Hardly anyone is pumped up to get out there and lift Boxer or Brown to victory. If those candidates would only but sign up with any of the dozens of irrefutable arguments favoring legalization, they could very well tap into the energy and excitement the legalizers will bring to the ballot box in November.
But, no. They would rather chase the center by championing the morally wrong, fiscally irresponsible side of the argument. Humboldt County will be happy to continue the current state subsidy of our most important cash crop -- no problem there -- but if we end up stuck with a Sen. Carly Fiorina, the teabagger's friend, then we could well have Democratic cowardice to thank for it.