Charlie Pierce is poised take the helm at the Kenai Peninsula Borough for the next three years, according to unofficial mayoral runoff election results.
Pierce led the mayoral runoff race after the close of polls Tuesday night, with 51.6 percent favoring him over Linda Hutchings, who took 48.4 percent of the vote. With all precincts reporting, Pierce had 3,509 votes to 3,283 for Hutchings, a 226-vote difference.
Absentee by mail and questioned ballots have yet to be counted.
After the Oct. 3 election Pierce and Hutchings emerged as the top two candidates, with Pierce taking about 38 percent of the vote and Hutchings taking about 31 percent in the first round. A third candidate, Dale Bagley, took about 29 percent of the vote. Under borough code, one candidate has to receive more than 50 percent of the vote to win outright, or the top two candidates go to the polls again for a runoff.
Traffic at polling sites was slow throughout Tuesday, according to election workers at various sites around the central Kenai Peninsula and in Homer. A wet layer of snow slicking the roads left polling places relatively quiet before noon — around 10 a.m., the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex site had only counted 31 regular ballots, and the Kalifornsky Beach Road fire station had only counted about 71 regular ballots by midmorning. By midafternoon, the Old Carrs Mall in Kenai site had registered a little more than 200 regular ballots.
At Nikiski Fire and Emergency Service Area Station 1 around mid-afternoon, Nikiski resident Patty Gallien didn’t have much of a line to compete with when she and her husband came to vote. The ballot was simple — one box to check — and they were on their way. Though she noted that turnout seemed to be low, she said she’d seen a lot of awareness of the election on her Facebook feed building up to the runoff. As for her preferred candidate?
“Charlie Pierce, all the way,” she said.
Despite squalls and rain mixed with snow, a few supporters of Hutchings and Pierce stood on busy Homer street corners and waved signs during the lunch hour from noon-1 p.m. At Lake Street and Pioneer Avenue, four Hutchings campaigners waved at busy mid-day traffic. Wayne Aderhold described the response for or against Hutchings as “two thumbs down, an ugly frown, but mostly neutral or thumbs-up and waving.”
Down the hill at the corner of Lake Street and the Homer Bypass, Pierce supporter Lou Pontious said she had gotten a mixed reaction, “but no middle fingers yet.”
Pontious said she met Pierce at a Homer lunch last week and liked him because he seemed real. She also liked his political experience.
“He’s an honest guy,” she said. “I think he’ll fix our budget problems. He won’t raise taxes.”
In the fickle lower Kenai Peninsula political scene, where liberals and conservatives sometimes split the vote 50-50, Pontious said she thought Hutchings might have more support.
In the sidewalk island at the intersection of the Sterling Highway and the Kenai Spur Highway, Soldotna resident Peggy Mullen waved a sign supporting Hutchings and waved at passing drivers. Once in awhile, one would honk emphatically, though the driver was nearly invisible behind the headlights and the windshield obscure in the predawn darkness.
“I wish people knew how helpful that was, when they honked back,” she said.
On the other side of the intersection, a group of sign wavers for Charlie Pierce stood beneath the street lamp, with extra notes attached to the campaign sign encouraging people to vote. Both candidates spent the morning out at the Soldotna Y intersection as well, waving signs at passing drivers. Hutchings said she felt optimistic about the day.
Over the course of the election, she said she enjoyed visiting communities like Lowell Point outside Seward and learned about residents’ concerns. She said she hadn’t gotten to visit every community in the borough, but had talked with people from many of them.
“I’ve had a lot of fun throughout this process,” she said.
Pierce said he also had a chance to visit communities around the borough, including Homer and Seward, to listen to their concerns. A radio straw poll and support from the community contributed to his optimism for the outcome of the election, he said. He said he felt people were responding to his message that the borough administration needs to cut spending rather than raise taxes.
“I think the people have spoken, and they’ve said, ‘No, don’t raise taxes until you go into the budget and (reduce spending),’” he said.
Hutchings said she was still cautiously optimistic about the standings on Tuesday evening.
”… Absentees have yet to come in, and I picked up absentee votes last time,” she said.
After the close of polls Tuesday night, Pierce said he was feeling good about the results so far and that he wasn’t too worried about the differential in the absentee ballots. The only thing he said he would have changed about the race was the negativity that proliferated in the later part of the race, much of which didn’t originate with the campaigns themselves, he said.
“I’m very grateful and pleased with the team that I worked with and have come behind me,” he said. “… I’m very humbled.”
Absentee ballots by mail and questioned ballots have yet to be counted. Mailed ballots have to arrive at the borough clerk’s office by Oct. 31 to be counted, at which point the clerk’s office will finalize the results and forward them to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly for certification.