VanDyke wins council seat; other race too close too call

Homer businessman Gus VanDyke leads the Homer City Council election with 544 votes. One of two candidates endorsed by Homer Voice for Business, the other endorsed candidate, Corbin Arno, is in a tight race for a second seat against incumbent council member Bryan Zak. Arno is just four votes ahead, with 461 votes to Zak’s 457. 

With 167 absentee, 36 questioned and four special needs ballots still to be counted, that lead could shift. Voters could choose two of four candidates, with the top two vote-getters winning council seats. 

Justin Arnold, the commercial fisherman who lead an initiative to repeal a ban on plastic shopping bags, is in fourth with 243 votes. Arnold got some good news, though: The bag ban repeal will likely pass, with 554
yes votes to 438 no votes.

“Unfortunately, they’re going to drag it out until Friday and make me sweat it out,” Arno said of the results. “The anticipation is killing me.”

“I’m glad that people got out and voted. That’s the good thing,” VanDyke said. “If it holds true and I stay elected, I will do the best I can to fulfill the wishes and needs of the people of Homer.”

Zak, a two-term council member first elected in 2008 for a two-year seat, said the race had four strong candidates that gave voters some choices. He congratulated VanDyke on his apparent win.

“It was a good race by all. Congratulations to Gus for sure,” Zak said. “He’ll be a good addition to the council.”

As to why he did so well, VanDyke said his reputation as a business man probably helped. A mechanic, VanDyke owns Scruggs Automotive.

“I’ve run my company for quite some time, and I think people have decided they want to see the city run like a business as opposed to a country club,” he said. “That’s the best answer I can give you.”

He said he didn’t think name recognition helped. Most people know him by his first name, VanDyke said.

“I had a lot of people come in and say ‘I didn’t know what your last name was. Are you the one running?’” he said.

Zak has spoken out strongly for business interests on the council, particularly on the water-sewer rate changes opposed by Homer Voice for Business. The group formed partly in opposition to rates that increased sewer costs for some customers, particularly those on sewer lines with lift stations. Zak had proposed amendments to the rate change suggested by Homer Voice for Business. 

“I think they definitely knew which direction they wanted to go and which candidates they wanted to send their support to,” Zak said of Homer Voice for Business not supporting him. “It’s great to see that the Homer Voice for Business will be represented. … I hope there’s a community voice, too, not just business.”

Arno said he was glad to see voters turned out and spoke their mind. 

“That’s what it’s all about — the voice of the people,” he said.

The people also had a voice in the proposed bag ban repeal. Arnold, who like VanDyke and Arno is a political newcomer, researched the process for repealing a city ordinance and spearheaded the initiative to repeal the ban on retailers providing onion-skin thin shopping bags. Arnold said his main objection to the bag ban was philosophical.

“I’m not balloting for the bags so much as I’m balloting against the government telling us not to use them,” he had said earlier. Arnold did not return phone and email messages requesting comment on the election results.

Council member David Lewis, who sponsored the bag-ban ordinance with council member Beau Burgess, said he was disappointed at the repeal — but not surprised.

“I expected it. I think the people who spoke in favor of it lived outside the city limits and so they can’t vote,” he said. “People have voted and that’s what they want, that’s what they get: a love affair with plastic bags.”

At Save-U-More, one of Homer’s large grocery stores, if the bag ban repeal passes, the store will again provide the thin plastic shopping bags, said store manager Mark Hemstreet.

“We will be providing those bags for those customers, those that choose to use them,” he said. “By now we’ve got a lot of customers who switched over to reusable bags. Hopefully they’ll continue to use them.”

Save-U-More provided plastic bags for free, but charged for paper bags, which Hemstreet said cost significantly more than plastic bags. The store also provides empty cardboard food boxes for reuse. Save-U-More sells reusable shopping bags, too, and saw an increase in both sales and use of the bags during the plastic bag ban, Hemstreet said.

Some customers had grumbled about not having plastic bags, Hemstreet said. They liked being able to reuse them for garbage can liners and to tote fish.

“That’s good news for customers,” he said of being able to provide plastic bags again.

Zak said the repeal issue communicated several messages.

“If the voters want to repeal it, the voice will be heard,” he said. 

The initiative also raised another issue, Zak said.

“We have to be concerned about the environment,” he said. “Just for the time it was enacted, it definitely focused the attention on residents that we’re doing what we can to protect the environment.”

The city canvass board meets at 10 a.m. Friday in Homer City Hall to review ballots and determine the final outcome. At its  Oct. 14 regular meeting, the city council will certify the election. If the repeal of the bag ban passes, the repeal would take effect after certification. Council members will be sworn in at a special meeting Oct. 21 — something that surprised VanDyke. He said he thought he would take office in January.

For all ballots, 1,251 people voted Tuesday out of 4,337 registered voters, a 28 percent turnout. However, because Alaska law is conservative about purging voter rolls, registration numbers tend to be inflated.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.