Election ’96


Michael Amsler

Pressing flesh: Supervisor Ernie Carpenter, left, congratulates political hopeful Eric Koenigshofer, who faces a runoff in November.

Election upsets set stage for hot November contests

By Bruce Robinson and Greg Cahill

“We’re the giant killers,” Virginia Strom-Martin exulted, as election day slowly morphed into the morning after. Her cautiously hopeful Tuesday night vigil at the Santa Rosa office of the California Teachers Association had gradually loosened into a too-good-to-be-true celebration as the returns mounted from the far-flung state 1st Assembly District and showed the longtime elementary school teacher slowly overtaking and then pulling away from ex-Rep. Doug Bosco of Sebastopol and “his million-dollar name recognition” in a five-way bid to replace veteran state legislator Dan Hauser–a key race in the fight for partisan control of the Legislature.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, who was unopposed in the primary but will face Marinite Republican Duane Hughes, stopped by briefly and joined in the celebratory dancing as bandleader Jerry Hertz improvised anti-Bosco lyrics to the familiar oldies that his four-piece group casually churned out. But the music was long over and most of the residue of the underdog victory party had been cleaned away before Strom-Martin, who garnered 45 percent of the votes, finally was able to relax and savor her triumph. Serious thoughts about Willits businesswoman Margie Handley, who handily prevailed in the Republican primary, would have to wait.

As in other races in Sonoma County and the North Coast, the final outcomes in Tuesday’s primary defied the pre-election conventional wisdom, and set up a November contest that should engage voters’ attention through the long stretch until fall. The strong showing of political newcomer Michela Alioto, 27, of St. Helena, who overcame Democratic Party insider Monica Marvin, was another surprise. But the least predicted outcome in this rare early election was the finish in the west county supervisorial election.

“It’s going to be interesting,” declared an ebullient Ernie Carpenter, as he looked ahead to the November runoff between Eric Koenigshofer and Mike Reilly in the 5th Supervisorial District. That contest will pit two well-respected west county activists against each other for the chance to succeed Carpenter on the county Board of Supes. Interested observers echoed Carpenter’s non-committal term throughout the west county. Most had expected either Koenigshofer or Reilly to ultimately confront conservative businessman Bill Dowd of Guerneville. Koenigshofer captured 28 percent of the votes, Reilly snared 24 percent, and Dowd just 20 percent.

Having poisoned relations with the front-runner through a vicious last-minute mailer that tried to link Koenigshofer with a convicted S&L figure, Dowd and his backers are not expected to reconcile with Koenigshofer in the coming months, which could leave Reilly as the chief–if indirect–beneficiary of the Dowd hit piece. But there are still more voters to court who supported the other four unsuccessful candidates in the primary.

The relatively strong showing of fourth-place finisher Shela Furze, who garnered 2,191 votes, was another surprise. Eschewing most campaign advertising except for a multitude of roadside signs, Furze received strong support from conservative churches, which reportedly equated support for her with a show of faith. Furze’s polar opposite, lesbian activist Maddy Hirschfield, ran a solid fifth as the county’s first openly gay candidate, but nearly quadrupled her vote total as the top finisher in another seven-way race, for a seat on the county’s Democratic Central Committee.

The Koenigshofer-Reilly runoff will be the only Sonoma County race carrying over to the November ballot. Incumbent Supervisors Tim Smith and Mike Cale both easily won re-election, while Mark Tansil buried his two rivals to claim a seat on the Superior Court bench.

In a major upset, Alioto trounced Napa County attorney Marvin, who had raised more than $225,000 from Democratic backers across the country. “We’ve had a very positive campaign that’s been based on the issues,” said an excited Alioto from her St. Helena campaign headquarters late Tuesday night. Alioto received 22,965, or 42 percent, of the votes to Marvin’s 18,829.

She must now combat Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Windsor, to make good on her goal of becoming the youngest woman to ever serve in Congress. “Age, in my opinion, is probably one of my positives. We’re energized and we’re going to go in there and change things,” Alioto said enthusiastically after her victory.

Evidently the former aide to Vice President Al Gore is a quick study in campaign spin manipulation. She rebuffed “carpetbagger” charges from her rivals, after having moved to the district just weeks before the filing deadline, and noted that she is a fourth-generation Northern Californian “with very deep roots in Del Norte, Humboldt, and Mendocino counties.” She also said that Riggs has voted with House Speaker Newt Gingrich 93 percent of the time. “I think he’s been representing the state of Georgia better than his constituents in California,” she said. “If anyone is a carpetbagger, we should be calling him a carpetbagger–he’s been representing the state of Georgia.”

So, as they will say in Georgia this summer, let the games begin.

From the March 28-April 3, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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