With the possible exception of the race for District Attorney, nothing on the local Nov. 2 ballot is as hard-fought as the battle between Eureka Mayor Virginia Bass and six-term incumbent Fourth District Supervisor Bonnie Neely -- and nothing has higher stakes. From a political point of view, Neely's ouster would remove from office the most powerful and bureaucratically adept progressive official in the county. Whether this would be an occasion to rejoice or to lament -- well, that depends entirely on your own point of view.
The miracle is that it continues to be a contest this late in the game; on the surface, it doesn't look like much of one. Bass came within around 150 votes of winning the election outright on the night of the June 8 primary. When all the votes were tallied, Bass was left with 2,720 votes, or 47.3 percent of the total. Neely finished far behind 1,819 votes, or 31.6 percent. The third-place finisher, Eureka City Councilmember Jeff Leonard, ended with 1,182, or 20.6 percent. Bass and Leonard are seen as ideological counterparts, at least on a number of important issues; if only 12.8 percent of his supporters had voted for Bass instead of him, she would have topped 50 percent in the primary, making a November run-off unnecessary.
Despite that apparently huge advantage, Bass said last week that she isn't taking anything for granted. "It's not over ’til its over," she said. "You run ’til it's over and then collapse. I've just learned that being overconfident in anything is a bad thing."
A few new issues have really come to the fore since the primary, Bass said. Among them are the large-scale Forster-Gill development, which is slated for the Cutten area outside the city limits, and Measure N, a ballot measure that would clear the way for Security National's Marina Center development, at least at the level of city government. (The California Coastal Commission, a state board that Neely chairs, would still have the power to reject the development.) In both cases, Bass charged, Neely's priorities give short shrift to Eureka residents -- in the Forster-Gill case, by standing for dense development that would impact city traffic, and in the Marina Center case by opposing a development that would bring jobs.
"What it highlights is that the communication isn't really good between the county and the city," Bass said. "Rarely has the Fourth District Supervisor called me and told me 'This is going to impact your city.'"
Bass said she greatly admired what she characterized as First District Supervisor Jimmy Smith's approach to governance -- helping people on the ground work their way through the sometimes painful maze of local, state and national regulatory bodies in order to get things done. Government, she said, doesn't have to always be the enemy, and it doesn't always have to serve from on high, as she believes characterizes her opponent's style. "Obviously, there's other things you do," she said. "I just think for Eureka, for the supervisor from Eureka, that there's room for serving the day-to-day interests of regular people."
Bass has been endorsed by Humboldt County Sheriff's Organization, as well a number of trade unions and business organizations: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 551 Building and Construction Trades Council of Humboldt and Del Norte Counties and the Humboldt Builders Exchange.
But if Bass isn't relaxing, then neither is Neely throwing in the towel. In recent months, the incumbent's campaign has raised the pitch, directly critiquing Bass' years of service on the Eureka City Council and her term as mayor.
"We've compared records in terms of leadership -- where we've stepped up and led, and where she's been absent," Neely said last week. In particular, Neely referenced Measure O, a citywide sales tax increase that will also appear on the Nov. 2 ballot, as well as proposed water and sewer rate hikes. She charged that the city's need to go to the voters for more money, in the middle of the current economic downturn, demonstrates fiscal imprudence under Bass' watch. In contrast, she said, county government prepared for hard times by tightening its belt long before crisis arrived, and so avoided the need for painful tax increases.
Neely charged that such leadership should be critical to voters in the middle of a recession. "Things that affect people's pocketbooks are definitely in their minds, and this 60 percent sewer and water service increase is really concerning them," she said.
Neely added that she supports government action that supports the local economy, and said that the county's aggressive pursuit of federal stimulus funds has resulted in 200 permanent, full-time jobs in the county's private sector, which have replaced jobs lost. She said that such action is in stark contrast to her opponent's position on job creation, which she characterized merely as "wash[ing] off that welcome mat for the private sector." "You can't always wait for that," Neely said.
As regards building and development, Neely offered Myrtletown's new HealthSport facility and housing complexes, as well as the new Super Safeway under construction on Harris, as evidence of county government's healthy process for permitting new projects. "Those are things that have sailed through nicely, as opposed to what has happened in the city's jurisdiction," Neely said.
Neely has been endorsed by Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee and Humboldt County Green Party, in addition to her own list of unions: the Humboldt County Central Labor Council, Operating Engineers #3, Carpenters Union #751 and AFSCME Local #1684.