The dust has settled, the smoke has cleared, the mirrors are stashed for distant or in some cases immediate campaigns. Yes, the 2010 primary election is history—what more is there to say? Well, plenty: New Times’ writers, bolstered by scribes from our sister paper the Santa Maria Sun, expound on the drama, the quirks, the movers behind the scenes, the atmospherics they encountered deep into the night at campaign headquarters of candidates for sheriff, Assembly, and the board of supervisors.
Watching candidates watch returns is always a character study. When their mettle is tested, do they bend, crack, or remain implacable, smiles firmly affixed? Take a ride with the wonks as they put the pols under scrutiny.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- THE MAN : Ian Parkinson breathes a little easier after taking a significant lead in the county sheriff’s race.
Ian Parkinson’s election party was the place to be for many of the who’s who of SLO County. One by one they trooped up the stairs to the top room of Mother’s Tavern to greet the man who well may become the next county sheriff.
The darkened barroom had multiple televisions tuned to the news. Cheers erupted when the first reports of Parkinson’s lead aired. And the mood improved even more when the Lakers won game three of the NBA finals. As Parkinson circulated among the crowd, people started to trail behind him as though he were a medieval pope who had been elected but not yet presented to the masses at the Vatican window. The police captain and his supporters were surrounded by three more Parkinsons: His smiling visage gazed over the party from nearly life-size posters.
The crowd was loud, lively, spontaneous. When TV reporters interviewed the candidate on the ground floor, supporters cheered from the balcony. Parkinson’s political consultant Cory Black canvassed the room looking like the goose who laid the golden egg, barely able to quiet his mirth and satisfaction.
It became obvious the room was divided into two groups. The inner group, made up mostly of civilian supporters, gave lots of hugs and back slaps. A much quieter group sat with their backs up against the wall and seemed shy. The wallflowers had exceptional posture and looked as though they shopped for clothes at JC Penny. Most of them were police or sheriff’s deputies.
The race results were slow to come in. The room thinned out and conversations turned more to politics. Quiet debates started in the corners of the room over whether Jerry Lenthall or Joe Cortez would be a more difficult opponent for Parkinson.
As the party faded, a five-year-old Maltese named Abbey escaped from a bag where it had hidden most of the night. She escaped her owner and drank from a glass full of coke.
Parkinson was tired at the end of the evening. “I’m glad this part of it is over,” he said.
—Robert A. McDonald
The party for former Pismo Beach Police Chief Joe Cortez was one of the more exciting events of the night, as he slowly began closing in on retired SLO police sergeant Jerry Lenthall’s early second-place standing.
More than a hundred supporters packed into the main floor of the Mission Inn in Pismo Beach Tuesday night, commandeering the bar and multipurpose room. Cheers and chuckling echoed through the hours as early results came trickling in between commercial breaks in the Lakers-Celtics game and later, America’s Got Talent.
When New Times got there at 8 p.m., the party was in full swing with a spectacular view of the sun setting over the Pismo coast. Cortez was sequestered at the far corner of the Pismo Room, surrounded by a wall of friends and family. Instead of squeezing through rows of bodies and spilling countless drinks, the reporter stayed at the bar and chatted with Cortez’s supporters.
With results from only seven precincts reported, murmurs of “Jerry” and “Ian” floated through the lobby as people did their best to calculate how this night would end, but already some were calling it: Cortez had a real shot at passing Lenthall. “Well, Ian’s in the lead, but that’s to be expected,” one silver-haired man was overheard saying to a companion over a glass of wine. “These early returns, Joe doesn’t even need to look at ‘em. We don’t even know if they’ve returned South County yet—and when they do, I think Joe’s got a real shot at this runoff.”
Just then, Cortez’s wife Kathy strolled by to say hello. Asked how she was feeling, she laughed, likening the pre-election-results butterflies to how she felt before her wedding. “I think we’re OK, though,” Kathy told New Times. “We’re in a good position here. Now, you have to try some of these chocolate-covered strawberries!”
Around 9:30 p.m., Cortez finally got up and addressed the room, thanking everyone—especially Kathy—for their support.
When New Times finally reached Cortez, he seconded his wife’s observation about the pre-election jitters. “It’s the funniest thing,” he said, “I should be used to it, and there’s really nothing I can do about it now except sit back and watch. But I can’t sit still.”
By midnight, as most people had already departed, leaving only a few die-hard supporters there, the New Times reporter stood next to the candidate as the word came in—with 60 percent of precincts counted, Cortez surpassed Lenthall for second place, taking 18 percent to Lenthall’s 16 percent. As the supporters cheered and pumped fists in the air, Cortez told New Times there was “no way” he was getting any sleep that night as results would continue to creep in. “I think this is going to be a really interesting race if it’s between me and Parkinson,” Cortez said.
For someone who had never gone through the election process, Cortez said he was very pleased with his campaign. “And you know, as someone who’s not really a politician, I’ve never been to an election party before and I didn’t really know how it would go,” he said. “But I suppose we did it right tonight.”
Jerry Lenthall’s party took place in a Mexican restaurant. The crowd was older and more thoughtful than the usual political election night parties. The gathering had the feel of a get-together among friends.
Between the agonizingly slow election results updates, people quietly talked of the race. Lenthall was in second place most of the night. As the results slowly came in, the candidate worked the room updating everyone on how things were going.
The guacamole was wonderful.
All through the night, Lenthall’s supporters munched the night away. When the results refused to come through, the crowd slowly drifted out. Lenthall worked out the electoral possibilities with a pen and paper, frequently looking at a laptop in the corner of the room. He did not look happy.
When it was time to leave, Lenthall handed out take-home trays so supporters could transport the cakes, cookies and other baked goods that had fueled the evening. “Here,” said Lenthall, as he passed a tray to a New Times reporter. “We can’t let this go to waste.” The reporter obeyed, took some cookies, a brownie, two pieces of lemon cake and went home.
—Robert A. McDonald
33rd District Assembly
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- WINNER: Katcho Achadjian (far left) was happy to be surrounded by family members and supporters at his celebration of a victorious run for the 33rd Assembly District.
Dusk descended on San Luis Obispo, and spirits—of the alcoholic variety and otherwise—rose as the man of the hour entered the meeting room of the Sands Inn and Suites.
Shortly before polling closed for the Republican primary, 33rd District Assembly candidate Katcho Achadjian, looking a bit haggard but also delighted, warmly greeted about 50 of his closest campaign volunteers and friends.
“I’m feeling as good as I can be,” he said. “I’m surrounded by family members and supporters. This is what we look forward to.”
Characteristically, Achadjian’s mind was already halfway on to the next morning’s business, a Coastal Commission meeting in Marina del Rey. However, Achadjian vowed to stay with his supporters until midnight.
“No rest for the weary,” Achadjian said with a smile.
While awaiting early absentee ballot counts, supporters poured wine and devoured Armenian foods, all while taking in Game 3 of the Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals.
Volunteer Kevin Drabinski, who helped with the campaign’s communication duties, was cautiously optimistic at the outset.
“The journey to get to this day, which is full of promise, has been a great long ride and very memorable,” he said. “It’s a funny feeling. You can’t let yourself hope that you’ll win, and all you can do is look back and say, ‘Did we do the best job we can do?’ And you have the satisfaction that we did the best we could and things will turn out.”
Achadjian’s assorted campaign helpers, some not even old enough to vote themselves, were hopeful the night would swing in their favor.
At 9 p.m., the first results trickled in. Achadjian scribbled the district-wide numbers on a whiteboard in marker. He’d managed 37 percent of the votes to Etta Waterfield’s 33 percent; leading in SLO County by more than 2,000 votes, but lagging third in Santa Barbara County.
As early returns pointed to the possibility of a three-way race, volunteers hunkered down for the long haul.
“It could be a long night,” said Ross Buckley, a Cal Poly senior and campaign volunteer. “I hope I don’t have a heart attack by midnight.”
Expecting a close race coming into the evening, Achadjian took a time-out to thank his supporters. While encouraged, he also didn’t put too much weight into the results.
“The numbers can change dramatically,” Achadjian said. “I’ve been here three times before, so you’ve got to wait until the last votes are counted. When the clerk’s office says this is it, then you celebrate.”
Achadjian’s campaign was a true family affair. His wife Araxie, who helped her husband in multiple campaigns for supervisor, called the night a “temporary relief.”
“It’s very rewarding,” she said. “We kept it positive, so regardless of the outcome, we’ll be very proud of the way we’ve ran our campaign.”
At 9:30 p.m., the candidate’s son and campaign manager Hratch, just 22 years old, arrived from Los Angeles.
“It’s a change of pace from the L.A. rush, but it’s a rush all in itself,” Hratch said of the night. “This is the fun part. This is the easy part. We’ve been through this three times with his supervisor races, so we just sit back and wait now.”
As the night progressed, though results from Santa Barbara County were slow to post, Achadjian’s lead in SLO County over challengers Waterfield and Matt Kokkonen continued to rise. So too, did the hopes of his supporters.
By the time the local 10 o’clock news began, some volunteers were patting each other on the back in a congratulatory fashion. Achadjian, sans jacket and tie, appeared confident his lead would hold.
“Overall, what you see as we speak is what can be expected throughout the night,” he said. “I think it will stick. The percentages might change, but the rankings won’t change.”
“We ran a good campaign. We kept it clean. We didn’t let anybody down,” he added. “We made a lot of new friends and kept old friends, and life goes on.”
- PHOTO BY AMY ASMAN
- HOMETOWN SUPPORT: Assembly candidate Etta Waterfield nabbed the most votes in Santa Barbara County, but overall trailed behind opponent Katcho Achadjian throughout the evening.
Dozens of red, white, and blue balloons hung in the air at 33rd District Assembly candidate Etta Waterfield’s election night party in Santa Maria, their multi-colored ribbons creating a maze like a kelp forest for supporters to navigate throughout the night.
Waterfield’s campaign headquarters—an office building on Santa Maria Way—was packed with people of all ages waiting to see if their candidate would take the Republican nomination for the seat.
As of press time, Waterfield trailed opponent Katcho Achadjian by about six percentage points.
While watching the election results come in, Waterfield told the Sun she felt unusually calm about the situation.
“I can’t watch a game if my team is a few points away from winning,” she explained. “I have to walk away.”
Waterfield credited her serene demeanor in large part to the support of her family, friends, and fellow community members, some of whom she was meeting for the first time.
“It’s very humbling to meet perfect strangers who buy into you heart, soul, and everything,” she said. “That’s been the best part of the campaign; I have so many friends now.”
Waterfield’s daughter, Mercy Clark, who traveled from Arizona with her husband and daughters for the occasion, said her mother is equally devoted to her supporters and potential constituents.
“She’s a people person, and she’s a person of integrity,” Clark said. “She’s not a politician, she’s a real person, and she definitely cares about her people.”
Fifth District Supervisor Joe Centeno also listed Waterfield’s integrity as a reason for his decision to back her politically.
“She’s a fantastic lady. She has a lot of integrity, and she’s passionate about working with the people in our valley here,” he said. “She has a great perspective on the [government] regulations imposed on our working people, the farmers and business owners who built our economy.”
Centeno also said he’s confident Waterfield, who until recently worked for the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and its economic development committee, would bring businesses and jobs to the district if elected.
Economic growth has been a cornerstone of Waterfield’s campaign. She strongly opposes higher taxes and has often labeled herself as a “conservative tax fighter” throughout the campaign season.
While this has been her first campaign for office, Waterfield said she views her outsider status as an asset.
“[Assemblyman] Sam [Blakeslee] was never elected before he took office, and he’s done so much for the district,” she said. “I tell people, ‘My predecessor is my example. He went through the same process.’”
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- ANOTHER PARTY: Assembly candidate Matt Kokkonen’s party was a civil event with no crumbs spilled but some talk about sniper rifles.
There is something noble about Matt Kokkonen, at least to this extent: The man perseveres. No matter the odds, no matter the race, even for the Assembly, his tactics never change. He waves the flag, salutes the military, rails about big government, denies pollution is cooking the planet, inveighs against career politicians, and condemns foreigners who risk arrest to live here.
He strums the same chords, out of tune and out of synch with most voters, and though he can’t seem to find the right pitch, returns for yet another performance. What a trouper.
Still, he was running second to Katcho Achadjian in SLO County by 11 p.m. among the four Republicans in the primary, as Etta Waterfield was walloping him (and Katcho) in Santa Barbara County. But she wasn’t going to outgun him at his campaign headquarters, no way; in fact several of the faithful there, in a downtown SLO Craftsman tastefully converted to office space, were too busy chatting about certain sniper rifles to notice. “My son found one of those with a scope and I had to have one, too,” a middle-age man bubbled to several others who fired back tales of their own arsenals.
There was more than plenty of wine and what appeared to be dozens of beers on ice but no evidence anyone had been thirsty all night. There were nice crackers, Brie, guacamole, salsa, chips, an untouched platter of turkey aram sandwiches, and cookies but not a crumb, spent napkin, or overturned plate in sight on the polished hardwood floors or oak swivel chairs, not a speck. Are his core supporters especially neat or polite, on diets (they did look lean), or do they revere (as they should) Craftsman interiors? Maybe they simply worried there’d be no one to clean up: It’s really hard to find citizens to hire who are willing to do that work.
SLO County Board of Supervisors
- PHOTO BY KATHY JOHNSTON
- BIG WINNER : County Supervisor Bruce Gibson, his supporters gathered behind him, prepares for the TV cameras at his election-night victory party at Café Della Via in Cayucos.
It’s a recipe honed to perfection over the years: Bruce Gibson’s mother’s creamy guacamole, made with her homegrown Cayucos avocados and lemons. Served in a reused plastic container from Trader Joe’s, it took pride of place on a groaning buffet table laden with prosciutto-wrapped honeydew melon and fresh bruschetta at Gibson’s victory celebration at a Cayucos trattoria.
The contrast in the snacks reflected the diversity of the 2nd District, where Gibson knocked on the doors of college professors in SLO’s Ferrini Heights, cash-strapped families in Los Osos, and comfortable retirees in Cambria to ask for their votes.
And vote for him they did—in droves. As Gibson’s campaign strategist, Tom Fulks, announced in a booming voice to cheering supporters when the first results showed Gibson’s share of the vote at a remarkable 72 percent, “In 33 years, I’ve never seen such a spread!”
For Fulks, a former New Times political columnist and longtime spin doctor who can somehow make even the biggest most gas-guzzling SUVs seem green, it was a much easier campaign than last time around, when Gibson faced off against former Morro Bay mayor and property-rights advocate Roger Anderson.
Pumped like a cheerleader after watching the Lakers win at the Cayucos Tavern down the street, Fulks took charge, organizing a couple dozen campaign supporters to stand behind their candidate for a TV interview.
“We need to do an end-zone dance in the background. Don’t put your sign in front of anybody’s face!” he commanded, as Gibson’s campaigners set down their bottles of Cayucos Beach Ale and glasses of Cayucos Cellars wine for the cameras.
Thanking his campaign team one by one, Gibson referred to Fulks as “sort of the evil genius in the back room.”
He shook hands with his fellow supervisor, Jim Patterson, and Morro Bay City Councilmember Noah Smukler, before turning to Paavo Ogren, the county’s director of public works who has been Gibson’s colleague in the push for a Los Osos sewer. Ogren, on his way home from a dinner-date with an AIDS Ride bicyclist in Paso Robles, quipped, “This was the closest free beer!” as Gibson handed him a bottle.
After three and a half years in office, Gibson said it was “a grounding experience” to go out and ask people for their vote.
“I’m struck at how engaged people are here. You can run on the issues. Negative campaigns and robocalls don’t work here,” he told New Times.
The crowd thinned out, confident of their candidate’s victory, as the hours ticked by with no new results posted. With only a few of his campaign team waiting with him, Gibson stepped out into the ocean-tinged air of the late evening, a lone skateboarder whizzing past under the stars, Schooner’s crew of lifesize wooden pirates implacable, the campaign over for another four years.
Marshall Ochylski, District 2
Marshall Ochylski’s cheering section fueled up on a smorgasbord of pizza, bread, cookies, cheese and crackers, veggies, pretzels, fruit, and salad, lubricated by a keg of beer, and wine, soda, and juice. There was a buzz in the room as children and their parents milled about awaiting returns in his race against incumbent 2nd District supervisor Bruce Gibson.
Ochylski came off as a genuine people person without an ego to get in the way. Even when a KSBY TV crew arrived exciting everyone, he didn’t cut a conversation short. “Marshall is incredibly patient and kind … Working Marshall’s campaign was awesome. It was good energy and a good variety of people,” his unofficial campaign manager Maria Kelly enthused. “He’s not owned by anybody.” One of the would-be revelers, Lou Tornatzky chimed in, “I would always vote for someone from the Midwest.”
If you can’t find kind words about a politician at his own campaign party, the guy needs a new career; so it was no surprise everyone lauded Ochylski, but their exuberance was almost contagious. “I think he would be a very positive force for this county. I really respect him and I think he works really hard,” said Lou’s companion Lynette Tornatzky. “I’m a Democrat but I vote for the person … He speaks his mind, it isn’t a guessing game, you know what he means.”
“Personally I want somebody whose door is open. Marshall is really the voice of common sense,” said farmer, rancher, and general engineering contractor Richard Gonzales. “I think Bruce has already had to moderate his agenda since Marshall has been running just to keep up with him.
Another supporter, David Vogel, couldn’t stop talking about the man. “I have a lot of experience from county government from Washington State … I was in the county prosecutor’s office and have a good idea about what’s important in county government. Marshall has a good combination of skills: He’s a good listener, he works well with people, [and] he doesn’t let his ego get in the way …”
“I support Marshall because my dad is doing it and he is a nice guy,” said eight-year-old Jack Vogel.
Jane Lotz added, “He’s always been very community minded and an active volunteer. He’s been really active as a coach for the girls. He’s done a lot of the designs for the local parks as well,”
If what they say is true, expect to see Ochylski hit the hustings again.
- PHOTO BY COLIN RIGLEY
- TWIDDLING THUMBS : Despite holding the lead in the race for District 4 supervisor, Mike Zimmerman and his guests spent most of the night waiting for the election results to update.
Mike Zimmerman was outwardly excited and a bit hesitant after the first wave of election results came in and placed him as the leader with 35 percent of the vote for District 4 Supervisor.
After a few hours, as the results stayed the same and the glaring fact that he was leading with only two of 30 precincts counted, Zimmerman seemed more skeptical about his advantage. As time dragged on, he and a few dozen family and friends in the Girls Restaurant were down right bored. After watching a clip of a TV interview he had earlier that night, he and the crowd spent most of their time watching the same TV anchors report the same results.
Zimmerman’s son-in-law, Eric, regularly refreshed results from his laptop hooked into a large flat-screen monitor that seemed only there to disappoint a group eager to see if Zimmerman could hold his lead.
“I think it’s exciting because he’s in the lead currently,” Zimmerman’s daughter said as her husband hit the refresh button again with no new news. “But its kind of frustrating because they haven’t been updating.”
More page refreshing, more waiting, more TV news with too many commercial breaks and no updated results, at least not for the race everyone in the room was there for. There was the collective holding of breath each time an anchor began to announce results in a new race, and then a collective sigh and frustrated laughter as more attention was paid to the sheriff’s race or Bruce Gibson’s lock of District 2.
“Oh that’s old news,” someone yelled out at the TV.
Zimmerman stood in the back of the room, nervously jiggling a pair of keys in his hands and asking if anyone had a special source to get the latest results. Finally, at about 11:30 p.m., and with 30 percent of precincts reporting, Eric had the latest.
“I got an update,” he yelled out. “Or do you guys just wanna watch it on TV?” everyone chose to wait for the TV announcement.
“Dad, can we go home after this?” a small boy clutching red, white, and blue balloons asked Zimmerman.
Zimmerman held his lead with 37 percent of the vote after all precincts had reported.
“We’ll at least be in the playoffs,” he said.
- PHOTO BY COLIN RIGLEY
- VOTE FOR ME … AGAIN : District 4 supervisor candidate Paul Teixeira pulled in enough votes to get him in the November runoff election, but it wasn’t enough to switch him off campaign mode.
Tom Geaslen eyed me from across the room.
“Are you the press?” he asked.
“I’m one of them,” I responded.
Geaslen, campaign manager for District 4 Supervisor candidate Paul Teixeira, was in chronic election-night mode. He ran to a table, and came back with a small scrap of yellow note paper with the latest results. At about 8:20 p.m., Teixeira was the second-highest vote getter—in other words, he had enough votes to make his way to the November runoff, so far. But only two precincts—the absentee ballots—had been reported.
With a Bluetooth headset glued to his ear the whole night, Geaslen scurried to wherever he believed had the most-current results. Half speaking to me and half speaking to whoever was on the other end of his headset, Geaslen leaned over my shoulder to stare at the county clerk-recorder webpage.
“KSBY’s got more accurate results,” he said, before realizing they were reporting the same numbers.
If it weren’t for the occasional Teixeira for Supervisor button some people were wearing at his campaign party in the Butterfly Grill, the party could easily have been mistaken for a Lakers-Celtics playoff party, complete with yelling sports fans and the lingering waft of steam trays filled with fried food. Teixeira wandered the room, mingling and shaking hands with his friends and family. But he couldn’t help but go into campaign mode himself.
“I’m a people person,” he told me. “If you look around here, the majority are just regular everyday working people.”
At one table, tucked in the corner, Teixeira’s sons Jim and Jeff sat wolfing down chicken wings with two of their friends.
Jim pointed a thumb at his dad: “He’s in his mode—that’s how Paul Teixeira runs.” Both sons were equally boastful of their father and quick to tout his man-of-the-community rep.
But really, what’s more interesting: the basketball game or the election?
“Right now the election because it’s only one night,” Jim said peering through his black Ray Bans. “But the game can go for seven nights.”
The Lakers won 91-84, if you missed it. Teixeira came in second, so he has more campaigning ahead.
Jim Guthrie, District 4
Jim Guthrie didn’t even get to attend most of his own Election Night party.
As Arroyo Grande city council member and Mayor Pro Tem, Guthrie was stuck in a council meeting until well past 10 p.m. Meanwhile, about 60 supporters packed into the Village Café in downtown A.G. to follow the results and wait for him to arrive.
Guthrie’s supporters were in good spirits despite early reports showing his third-place standing, closely behind frontrunners Mike Zimmerman and Paul Teixeira in the 4th District Supervisor race. Closing on 11 p.m., Guthrie was trailing Teixeira by just over a hundred votes with seven of the 30 precincts reporting.
“We’re on the edge of our seats,” said anxious Guthrie campaign manager Claire Hodgkins. “It’s only two precincts so far, so we don’t really know yet. But our sense is very optimistic.”
Guthrie was finally spotted strolling down Branch Street toward the Café around 10:45. The place erupted in cheers as people rushed to greet him and tell him about the standings. Guthrie spent the next few minutes hunched over the computer screen with his campaign staff, examining the scant results.
“Well, with only two precincts in, I’m afraid I don’t really have much to say yet,” a clearly exhausted Guthrie told the New Times reporter he must have noticed lurking.
As midnight approached and few results emerged, supporters one by one had to trickle out without any real sense of where their candidate stood. “Sorry y’all had to come out for nothing,” a humble Guthrie joked to cheers and pats on the back from the dwindling crowd, which included County Supervisor Jim Patterson and A.G. councilman Chuck Fellows.
The Café staff, who stayed late to support Guthrie, slowly began setting up tables for the breakfast rush, which was only four hours away. With one last update showing three more precincts reporting in, and Guthrie’s vote percentage remaining the same, the candidate encouraged everyone to get some sleep. “These guys were so great to stay open for us here,” Guthrie said. “But I think we should let them go home.”