Too close to (re)call?

With 912 votes still to be counted, outcome uncertain

A special election to recall three Homer City Council members who sponsored an “inclusivity” or “sanctuary city” resolution appears to have failed, but still is too close to call.

In preliminary results with 1,071 people voting, the “no” votes are ahead in the bid to recall council members Donna Aderhold, David Lewis and Catriona Reynolds. Aderhold had the largest lead, with 54 percent, followed by Lewis at 53 percent and Reynolds at 51 percent. However, with 912 absentee, early voting-in-person and other votes to be counted, that lead could shift. The margin ranges from Aderhold ahead by 74 votes to Reynolds ahead by 33 votes.

If their lead holds, all three council members will keep their seats. The special election canvass board meets at 1 p.m. Friday at Homer City Hall to count the remaining ballots. The election will be certified at a special meeting of the council at 4 p.m. Monday, June 19.

With 1,071 votes counted, the preliminary results are:

Shall Donna Aderhold be recalled?

Yes: 493 votes or 46 percent

No: 572 votes or 54 percent

Shall David Lewis be recalled?

Yes: 499 votes or 47 percent

No: 563 votes of 53 percent

Shall Catriona Reynolds be recalled?

Yes: 514 votes or 49 percent

No: 547 votes of 51 percent

“I’m cautiously optimistic. We’ll have to see how this holds,” Aderhold said in a phone interview from Alice’s Champagne Palace where she, Lewis and Reynolds had gone to wait for results Tuesday night. “I’m pleased that so far that over half of the people who have voted understand there is no misconduct in office.”

The recall group alleged that Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds had violated their oath of office to be impartial because they sponsored Resolution 17-019, the so-called “inclusivity” resolution that opponents called a “sanctuary city” resolution because of the original draft, and an earlier resolution supporting the Standing Rock Tribe’s battle against the Northern Access Pipeline, Resolution 16-121.

The recall group also alleged “irreparable damage” was done to Homer’s economy because a draft resolution had been released on social media. All three council members denied publicizing that draft ahead of a revised and final version as introduced to the council.

Resolution 17-019 failed 5-1, with Reynolds the only “yes” vote. The Standing Rock Tribe resolution passed 4-3, with Mayor Bryan Zak breaking a 3-3 council tie vote. Zak was not included in the recall effort.

After the recall petition got sufficient numbers to force a recall and the city clerk certified the petition, the recall organizers formed a political group to support it, Heartbeat of Homer - Assembly Recall.

“Heartbeat of Homer is encouraged by the voter turnout we have seen today, and remain hopeful for a favorable final count on Friday,” said Sarah Vance, spokesperson for the group, on Tuesday.

At just 33 votes ahead, Reynolds had the lowest margin of “no” votes. Reynolds cast the only vote in support of Resolution 17-019. Reynolds said she felt her “yes” vote might have worked against her, although some people said they admired her for not backing down.

“I’m feeling like we’re still in limbo. … That seems like a pretty small number,” Reynolds said Tuesday of the narrow margin. “I’m not counting any chickens yet.”

Homer Citizens Against the Recall feels positive about the outcome, chair Ron Keffer said in a phone interview on Wednesday morning.

“It’s a good thing for us to be in the lead in all three races at this point,” he said. “It’s not over, of course, until the final count is known on Friday, but we’re pretty optimistic we’re going to maintain the lead in all three races.”

Both sides encouraged early voting. Keffer said in phone calls and personal contacts Homer Citizens Against the Recall encouraged people to plan when they were going to vote and when it was most convenient.

“We think we had a pretty good size group who did early voting,” he said.

Lewis said he felt a lot better on Tuesday than he did at Monday night’s council meeting. In council comments at the end of the meeting, Lewis said, “A lot of hurtful things have been said. It hasn’t been easy. I’m not going to go to the campfire and sing Kumbaya … It’s not going to go away overnight.”

“I walked out of there p—-ed,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t’ know why. It just hit. It feels good. It’s not really our victory. It’s the victory for all of the people who supported us and worked hard to keep us in office.”

With assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union Alaska, Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds had filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the election. They said that the grounds cited in the recall violated their U.S. and Alaska Constitutional rights to freely speak on controversial issues. Judge Erin Marston ruled that Alaska’s recall statutes should be interpreted liberally in favor of the voters’ right to recall and allowed the election to proceed.

Homer Citizens Against the Recall made the First Amendment a central part of its campaign. Its signs read “Stand up for freedom of speech.”

Looking ahead, Lewis said he doesn’t know how Homer will heal from the rift created by the contentiousness that has roiled Homer since April. At times the debate got ugly, particularly on social media. Heartbeat of Homer supporters complained people shouted obscenities and made rude gestures at them when they held rallies at WKFL Park before the election. Recall opponents and the targeted council members reported getting hate messages.

“That’s a good question,” Lewis said about bringing the community together. “It’s going to be hard. A lot of words were said, and as we know nowadays, they’re not going to disappear.”

The 3-year terms of Lewis and Reynolds end in October and their seats are up for election. Lewis had said before the recall effort that he did not intend to run again. Aderhold’s term ends in October 2018.

In her comments at the end of Monday’s council meeting, Aderhold mentioned she had been attending the 16th annual Kachemak Bay Writers Conference. She closed with one of Wendy Erd’s poems along Beluga Slough, “Advice from an Estuary.” It includes the lines “Embrace opposites easily … Digest insults / Reframe and cleanse them … Adopt silence while others speak all around you.”

Emotional and near tears, in his closing comments, council member Heath Smith remembered his friend Alice Love Lind, who died recently, and her contributions to Homer.

“We need to take the opportunity to express our gratitude to those who have a positive impact for good in our individual lives,” Smith said. “What I want as a community is we appreciate each other and we’re all really working toward a common end, but we might have different ideas of how that might look like.”

Council member Shelly Erickson in her closing comments said she had seen people who claim tolerance on both sides show animosity.

“We need to get back to where we are, a community who at the drop of a hat would help each other,” she said. “People have been asking how are we going to fix this? Unity begins with me. I have to choose to forgive others.”

The recall election got some national media attention. Brian Reed, producer of This American Life, a national radio show, visited Homer last week and through Tuesday to cover the recall. Reed is the producer of “S Town,” a popular podcast about alleged corruption in Woodstock, a small town in Alabama.

Tuesday saw steady campaigning throughout the day, with opponents and supporters of the recall — sometimes together— waving signs and U.S. flags on Pioneer Avenue. In terms of enthusiasm and numbers, the anti-recall group had more feet on the street. One supporter, Stuart Schmutzler, wore his Clan Stuart kilt. Supporters blew whistles and held up pinwheels in the brisk Kachemak Bay day breeze.

Keffer said he felt the anti-recall group had an advantage: many voters were highly energized to defeat the recall.

“We didn’t have to go out and beat a drum. A lot of people were disturbed at the recall effort,” he said. “They felt the council members had done nothing wrong.”

Retired school teacher Alex Koplin waved a blue no-recall sign with yes-recall supporters at WKFL Park. He said his fellow citizens treated him “with the utmost respect.” His main objective was to get people voting, Koplin said.

“My only hope for this is we get 50-60 percent voting,” he said.

That didn’t happen. In preliminary voting, the turnout was about 22 percent of 4,661 registered voters. With uncounted votes, the turnout would be about 42 percent — more than the 34 percent turnout in the November election. As a percentage of votes cast, so far the anti-recall votes have higher percentages than the vote of 47 percent Donald Trump received in the presidential election for the Homer precincts. Trump got 779 votes.

According to Alaska Public Offices Commission reports filed as of June 5 by the groups for and against the recall, Heartbeat of Homer received $9,000 in contributions. Most of that came from two of the recall organizers, Michael Fell, donating $1,667, and Larry Zuccaro, donating $4,000. It spent $6,000.

Homer Citizens Against the Recall received $6,300, with the largest contributions from Rika Mouw and Keffer, both $499. It spent $3,800.

Victory margins of 50 or less votes are not uncommon in preliminary or final vote tallies. In the Oct. 4, 2016, election where Bryan Zak beat David Lewis to become Mayor, Zak lead by 74 votes in preliminary voting, with the lead narrowed to 64 votes when the remaining 304 votes were counted. In a 2013 city council, Zak lead by just four votes against Corbin Arno in preliminary results, widening his lead to 10 votes in final results after 207 more votes were counted.

Absentee voting often mirrors the in-person election, but as Lewis said, “You never know. Strange things are done in the midnight sun.”

According to Homer City Clerk Melissa Jacobsen, 741 people cast early votes, 81 requested mail-in ballots, 52 voted by email or fax, 15 requested special needs ballots and 50 cast questioned ballots. All ballots must be postmarked by June 13 and must be received by 1 p.m. June 16, when the canvass board meets Friday in the Cowles Council Chambers, Homer City Hall.

The council meets Monday at 4 p.m. to certify the election. Jacobsen said the city attorney will be at Monday’s meeting to advise the council how it can vote when three of its members might have a potential conflict of interest on the outcome.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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