A short line forms outside of Homer City Hall as people wait to vote in the regular municipal election on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Homer mayoral, city council races too close to call

This story has been updated with comments from Homer City Council candidate George Hall.

The races for Homer Mayor and two Homer City Council seats are too close to call on Tuesday night after the regular municipal election.

In the mayor’s race between incumbent Mayor Ken Castner and challenger Donna Robertson Aderhold, there’s a wider margin that suggests Castner will emerge as the victor — but as Castner said, “Every vote needs to be counted.”

Four candidates ran for the two open seats on the council. Each seat is for a three-year term. Incumbents Rachel Lord and Caroline Venuti ran for reelection, while residents George Hall and Raymond Walker also ran for the seats.

Aderhold, a current city council member, ran for the mayoral seat, which is a two-year term. Castner ran for reelection.

Results from the Homer City Clerk’s office show Castner leading the mayoral race with 607 votes while Aderhold has received 410 votes. Preliminary results show incumbents Lord and Venuti currently leading the city council race with 517 votes and 505 votes, respectively. As of Tuesday night, Hall got 439 votes, and Walker has 461 votes. The two candidates who earn the most votes win the two seats.

These results are not official. According to the preliminary results, there are still 799 absentee ballots that have to be counted for the city election.

There were 469 city ballots mailed out to voters, City Clerk Melissa Jacobsen said in an email, and the city had gotten 296 back as of Tuesday. She said 18 ballots were emailed or faxed, and 14 of those had been received by Tuesday. There also are a few special needs ballots for people who could not make it to the polls because of illness or disabilities.

Jacobsen said 489 absentee ballots were cast in person ahead of the election. Mailed ballots, in-person absentee ballots and the emailed or faxed ballots add up to the 799 total absentee ballots still needing to be counted.

The election will be certified by the Homer City Council on Monday, Oct. 12 after the canvass board meets at noon to finish tallying the votes.

Mayoral race

Although the results could shift in the mayoral race, current Mayor Ken Castner leads challenger Donna Aderhold by 196 votes and has about 60% of the votes cast to Aderhold’s approximately 40%.

“To me it just feels way too early to tell and we’ll see what happens on Monday,” Aderhold said.

“I’m pleased that I’m ahead and think it’s a pretty heavy margin,” Castner said. “… I’m cautiously optimistic at this point. … The numbers would have to be a big swing the other way.”

Castner praised Aderhold for running a civil election.

“ I think it was a very polite campaign. We didn’t have a lot of difference on issues,” Castner said. “There was never a lot of heat generated. I thought it was a very fair and polite race for the mayorship.”

Aderhold said she’s proud of everyone who decided to run for local office.

“Another thought on the election is that for anybody to put themselves out there to run for office is a really big deal, so I’m proud of anybody who would put themselves out there to the scrutiny to run for office.”

She didn’t think the voter turnout was as good as it could have been.

“First of all, I always wish that more people would show up to vote whether early or on the day of,” Aderhold said.

As to why he drew more votes, Castner said he attributed that to the advantage of incumbency.

“I honestly think there is some respect for kind of holding the course during the COVID thing,” he said. “I think I’ve been fairly responsive to the city’s needs as far as the pandemic is concerned. I’ve also been active in trying to get that CARES money. … Status quo is sometimes a safe way to vote.”

If the final vote holds in Castner’s favor, Aderhold will retain her council seat.

“They don’t lose Donna,” Castner said.” … She’s still in the thick of it and we’re going to have to work together and all.”

Council race

With Lord and Venuti with slight leads over the newcomers Hall and Walker, a lot could change between now and Monday when the election results are certified.

Lord currently holds 26.7% of the votes cast Tuesday, while 26.1% were cast for Venuti, 23.8% for Walker and 22.7% for Hall.

Reached by phone Tuesday night, all the candidates said it’s too close to call and they’ll look forward to the final results next Monday.

“I really appreciate all of the votes that I received today and in the days leading up to the election, and I certainly hope to be able to serve the community for another term on council,” Lord said. “With almost 800 votes left to count out there for the absentees, it’s certainly totally up in the air, and so I’ll look forward to the full count when all those come in.”

Lord said she appreciates all the work election workers and city clerks have put into the election and to making sure everyone got an opportunity to vote.

Venuti said that although results aren’t final, she’s still pleased with the election.

“It’s about public service, not about me,” she said. “For that I’m happy that so many people voted.”

Venuti contrasted this year’s election with 2017 when she was first elected. Then, with so few absentee ballots to be counted, she got the good news Tuesday night. Now she will have to wait until Monday.

“I wish it wasn’t this close,” she said. “Not because I don’t like the other two people. There just aren’t any clear winners yet.”

Win or lose, Venuti and the other incumbent Rachel Lord will still have to attend the council meeting next Monday after the Canvass Board meets at noon to count the final ballots. The council certifies the election that night, with the swearing-in ceremony following at the end.

“It is a little disjointing,” Venuti said. “If I’m elected, I’m looking forward to serving another three years. It’s a humbling experience. I enjoyed every moment of it.”

Walker, too, said the race seems quite close.

“It’s just another job for me, you know,” he said. “Yeah, I’d kind of like to win, but that’s pretty close standings on all four people, ain’t it?”

Walker said he’s learned a lot during his first time running for a local government. He said he ran to bring what he sees as more balance to the makeup of the city council.

The process of running for office has been interesting, he said.

“But it ain’t over,” Walker said.

George Hall said he has met “a delightful bunch of people” while taking his first run at local office.

“I’ve met a tremendous number of very interesting people as a result of the campaign,” he said on Wednesday morning. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed the process. We’ll see what happens.”

At the Homer No. 1 precinct at Homer City Hall, poll workers described the flow of voters as steady throughout the day. By just before 5 p.m., 420 city ballots had been cast, along with 413 borough ballots.

A number of voters leaving the polling place, like Greg McCullough and John Cowan, said they voted to reelect Castner as mayor. Both McCullough and Cowan said they’ve known Castner for around 40 years, and are happy with how he’s lead the city so far.

“He’s just a really quality leader,” Cowan said. “I really like all he’s done over the years.”

Others, like Jennifer Gibson, said they voted for the incumbent city council members and Aderhold. Being new to Homer, Gibson said she read the candidate biographies in the voter pamphlet and based her decisions off of them. Gibson disclosed that Lord is also her sister-in-law.

When it came to the city council members, both Cowan and McCullough said they voted for the political newcomers, Hall and Walker. Cowan said he voted for them because he thinks the city council needs more balance.

“I just think they share my views as far as how to run things,” McCullough said.

Kyra Wagner said she found it a tough choice between Castner and Aderhold, but ultimately decided on Castner. Biking around town, Wagner said one of the things she noticed was how many people with signs backing diverse candidates also backed Castner.

“The one thing I believe in now more than anything is we need to stop fighting,” she said.

Kachemak City voter Knute Tonga came out of the Homer City Hall disappointed. He found out he had gone to the wrong precinct. That was OK, he said.

“I have time to vote and go to the brewery,” Tonga said.

City of Homer election results

Mayor

Ken Castner: 607

Donna Robertson Aderhold: 410

City council

Rachel Lord: 517

Caroline Venuti: 505

Raymond Walker: 461

George Hall: 439

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com. Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

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