At Sunday evening’s candidate forum in Eureka’s Labor Temple, seven of the dozen people running for spots in the city’s government took turns answering questions from representatives of the various left-leaning community groups that had organized the event. And while the whole forum proceeded in an orderly, civilized fashion, there were some distinct differences of opinion on display.
The forum gathered candidates for Eureka’s first and third wards. That included the four people running in Ward One (where current City Councilmember Marian Brady will be termed out after eight years): Caroline Brooks, Leslie Castellano, Hailey Lamb and Anthony Mantova. It also included the Ward Three candidates: incumbent Natalie Arroyo and challengers Jeannie Breslin and John Fullerton. (The candidates for the fifth ward and for mayor gathered Monday evening.)
Thanks to the passage of Measure P in 2016, the city’s wards mean a lot more than they used to. Henceforth, Eureka residents will only vote for a representative in their own ward. So, if you live in Ward One, your ballot will let you choose from Brooks, Castellano, Lamb and Mantova — but you won’t see any of the candidates from wards three and five. (Every registered voter in the city gets to vote for mayor, though.)
Below is a map to remind you where the recently redrawn ward boundaries are. And you can click here for a detailed map in pdf form.
If you have the time and interest, you can watch the forum in its entirety with the video at the top of this post and the one at the bottom. The candidates had received the questions ahead of time, and some clearly had prepared written responses.
Candidates expressed differences of opinion on issues such as single-payer health care, the merits of a “living wage” ordinance, the countywide sanctuary ordinance (Measure K), and Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that opened the floodgates to corporate spending in elections.
One perk of the way this forum was set up: The long table and wide-frame of the video allowed for the capturing of some great face-reactions from the assembled candidates as they listened to their competitors speak. It was like characters in The Office stealing looks into the camera: fleeting expressions that convey plenty.
Take, for example, the amused glances from incumbent Third Ward representative Natalie Arroyo as she listens to challenger John Fullerton discuss his reticence about a living-wage ordinance. And here, as Brooks gives her opinion on Measure K, the camera lingers on the other three candidates in the first ward — Castellano, Lamb and Mantova — with each offering their own enigmatic face-commentary.
A representative of AHHA (Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives) asked whether candidates support a sanctioned campground in city limits. Fullerton placed blame on the city for its handling of the Devil’s Playground eviction, saying there are now 20-40 illegal encampments scattered in greenbelts and gulches. He said he wouldn’t automatically reject a sanctioned campground but would like to see the rules.
Breslin focused on new affordable housing projects in development and mentioned the shipping containers and trailers donated to Betty Chinn. She said she would support a homeless campground on private property as long as it had rules, and she drew a couple of jeers from the crowd when she said, “Eureka has done a lot for our homeless community.”
Arroyo said she supports “a dispersed site model” for the homeless, including temporary and emergency shelters, and she suggested partnering with faith-based groups to provide a site for people who sleep in their cars. But she said the community should remain primarily focused on finding people permanent housing first by working with landlords and reducing roadblocks.
Mantova categorizes the homeless into three distinct groups: those down on their luck, the mentally ill and the “criminal drug addicts” (by far the largest group, in his estimation) and said he’s “not trying to be mean” but rather “compassionate” with these taxonomies. He voiced support for the Housing First model and said he could support a sanctioned campground as long as there was drug testing.
Lamb, Castellano and Brooks all said they’d support a homeless campground on private land if it were kept up to code. Castellano called for “a wide range of transitional housing” and Brooks said there should be a police presence and, somewhere in the city, an in-patient drug treatment facility.
The candidates were divided on Measure K, with Arroyo, Lamb and Castellano saying they’re proud supporters of the sanctuary ordinance while Breslin, Mantova, Brooks and Fullerton said they oppose the idea.
Breslin noted that California is already a sanctuary state and said, “We’re a nation governed by laws.” Brooks said she has a problem with people who come here illegally and then want protection. Fullerton said sanctuary cities and states encourage illegal immigration, lowering wages and benefits for the rest of the workforce. And Mantova argued that Measure K is “poorly written,” with its first seven pages offering nothing but “an all-around condemnation of the federal government.” (You can read the ordinance here.)
Arroyo said the sanctuary ordinance would allow residents to feel safe, contribute to the economy, send their kids to school and “contact law enforcement without fear,” adding that there’s “no reason” for the Eureka Police Department to do a federal job. Lamb said local law enforcement is already doing “a great job” on this issue, and Castellano, noting President Trump’s child separation border policy, said Humboldt County could be “a shining example for people” by protecting families.
The candidates split in similar ways on the matters of a living-wage ordinance and single-payer health care.
Regarding a living-wage ordinance, Arroyo and Castellano said they’d prefer to see it adopted at the county, rather than city, level, and Lamb said any such ordinance would have to be implemented “carefully.” She suggested a provision guaranteeing higher wages for jobs that require experience, such as teaching preschool.
Mantova joked a bit with the crowd, telling them he doesn’t support a living wage ordinance and then asking sarcastically, “You know how much fun it is saying that in the union temple?” Raising the minimum wage, he said, causes service jobs to disappear and employers to slash positions and benefits.
Brooks said, simply, “There shouldn’t be a living wage,” and regarding people on disability she said, “Handicaps should be … expected to perform to a certain standard in order to make more money.”
Fullerton and Breslin said the term “living wage” is poorly defined, and Fullerton said that if implemented in Eureka only it would put the city at a competitive disadvantage.
Regarding single-payer health care, Breslin said she’s concerned that such a program might restrict the medical care available to people. “Competition is always good for the consumer,” she said.
Brooks suggested that interstate health co-operatives and telemedicine could reduce costs. And Mantova said, “There is not one thing that the local city council can do to advance health care in this country.”
Arroyo noted that the city council provided a letter of support to Sacramento regarding The Healthy California Act, SB 562, which would have implemented single-payer health care in the state had it passed. (It was shelved in June.) And she said local officials can effect change through letters of support and by meeting with state and federal reps.
Lamb said that while she wouldn’t personally be affected since she’ll be on her dad’s insurance until she turns 26, she would support a single-payer system. Castellano said the group she formed called Societies for Poetic Action demonstrated at Assemblymember Jim Wood’s office to protest his lack of support for SB 562.
Fullerton said that he used to be opposed to the single-payer health care model, but over the past five to 10 years, as he’s listened to local doctors and seen a variety of medical practices get absorbed into either St. Joseph Health or Open Door, he’s begun changing his mind. But he said, “The devil is in the details.”
There was some palpable awkwardness when the candidates answered a question from a member of the local NAACP, who asked what each would do to address systemic racism in Humboldt County. (You can watch this section of the forum by clicking here.)
Brooks, who identified herself as black and Japanese, said, “I don’t believe systemic racism exists unless you’re looking for it.” She went on to describe an incident in Arcata in which she had racial slurs thrown at her for walking beside a white man, though she said, “I didn’t find that to be a racist incident for me.” She concluded by saying that everyone is prejudiced in some way and “Racism will always be around.”
Lamb said she probably wasn’t the best person to answer that question since she’s white, though she has been to over 10 countries, including South Africa, and she’s been discriminated against because of her youth.
Castellano said she has volunteered with First Nations, read books about feminism, racism and privilege and held “community conversations” on those same topics. She suggested the city could put up plaques memorializing the Chinese expulsion and Wiyot Massacre.
Fullerton said racism and sexism are “equally despicable” and vowed not to tolerate it.
In a rare instance of agreement, both Arroyo and Mantova said systemic racism is, in fact, a thing. Arroyo struck an academic tone, saying, “Racialized inequities remain a key factor in determining life outcomes for people, even when controlling for every other factor: income, education level, disability, etc.” She went on to note that in her job with the Redwood Community Action Agency she’s worked to improve translation services as well as health care for tribal communities, and said, “I’ve pushed for the city to prioritize its first-ever diversity plan this year.”
Mantova said this was “by far the most serious question” that had been asked and said systemic racism is horrible and should not be tolerated. (This week a Facebook group called “Eureka: No Place for Hate” popped up and has been anonymously sharing images of Mantova posts from years past and accusing him of racism, Islamophobia and being a “climate denier.” Contacted by the Outpost he said didn’t want to respond to “screenshots from online trolls.”) Mantova added that, if elected, he plans to have a good working relationship with the Human Rights Commission.
The final question of the evening, asked by the moderator, was a bit vague, referring to “a host of claims and news stories related to public health issues that have been based on misinformation and subjective opinions” and asking candidates what they would do to avoid being influenced by “faulty logic and emotional propaganda.”
All seven candidates seemed to understand this to be a reference to the Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction (HACHR) and a recent TV news story suggesting the group handed out syringe kits and “safer snorting” instructions at Arts Alive.
Breslin said the city has had a huge problem with needle litter, “I would say at one point Eureka was hemorrhaging needles,” she said. Any needle exchange program needs to “factor in our entire community,” she said, and regarding misinformation she said that as a marketer she loves research and facts, “because information is power.”
A number of candidates stood up for the value of facts and their own ability to identify them.
Brooks, who was mysteriously besieged by gnats all night, described herself as “a pit bull when it comes to an issue.” She added, “I am intelligent and I am a very staunch researcher.” But she doesn’t believe in statistic because “numbers can be manipulated.” She vowed to push back on faulty logic and propaganda. “I’ll toot my own horn: I’m really good at researching,” she said,”and I really trust my own results.”
Fullerton said his accounting and auditing background helps him to listen to both sides analytically. “I love Google,” he said. “I use it every day.” His process is to “get the facts and then make my decision based on logic and data.”
Arroyo got personal, saying that having been in an abusive relationship she tends to “go on robot” or shut down emotionally when people try to manipulate a situation through emotional misinformation, which is what’s happened with the needle debate. “I think people have been frustrated with my lack of [apparent] emotional concern over this issue,” she said. “That’s really where it comes from.”
She said she bases her own positions on public health data and best practices and won’t get sucked into hysteria. In closing she said, “This issue highlights the incredible need for mental health resources as evidenced by the rage-fueled attacks that are the very definition of mental instability.”
Mantova said there are think tanks on every side of any debate, and neither side is necessarily right or wrong, “just different perspectives.” He didn’t address needle exchange specifically but said his voting policy, if elected, would have three steps: First, identify the majority opinion. Second, ask if it steps on any minority group, and if it does “probably vote no.” And third, make sure the decision is in line with the city’s general plan.
Lamb said she has seen misinformation spread in the community, especially about the needle exchange program, and explained that she does footwork and conducts research firsthand.
Castellano said she’s concerned about people making decisions based on fear and misinformation and has participated in events to reduce stigma. She said she’d like to see Eureka develop a public health commission and create more literature around the issue.
The Outpost plans to have a post later this week on the second forum, which included candidates for the Fifth Ward and for mayor.