On Tuesday night, Kenai mayoral candidate Brian Gabriel lead opponent Harold “Hal” Smalley by 76 votes, with absentee ballots yet to be counted, according to unofficial election results from the Kenai Peninsula Borough clerk’s office.
Smalley, a retired English teacher, first sat on the Kenai council between 1988 and 1999 and later served in the Alaska House of Representatives and the Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly. He previously ran against Gabriel in the 2010 Kenai council race in which Gabriel was elected to his first council term. Smalley could not be reached for an interview Tuesday night.
Gabriel, a commercial fisherman and manager of the Alaska Department of Transportation’s Soldotna station has since served two three-year council terms, sitting as vice mayor the past two years.
Gabriel attributed his lead to the power of positive thinking.
“I just sort of stayed positive,” Gabriel said. “I’m a glass half-full guy, and I like to look at the positive side of things. I think people might have been happy about that message. Also being a fiscal conservative in the climate we’re in right now, folks might be concerned about that.”
Gabriel received 576 votes as of Tuesday; Smalley 500.
Two former Kenai Planning and Zoning Commissioners — Jim Glendening and Glenese Pettey — were elected to the Kenai City Council. After taking office at their first council meetings on Oct. 19, the two will serve three-year terms on the seven-member group.
This year’s council election was notable for its large number of candidates — Glendening and Pettey were the two highest vote-getters of the five who ran — and for its lack of incumbent candidates. The two will replace Gabriel and council member Terry Bookey, who declined to run for re-election.
Glendening led the unofficial Kenai council results with 547 votes and Hutchison followed with 404.
Glendening, a retired oilfield manager and business owner, also attributed the results to the positive tone of his campaign.
“It’s that I was pro-Kenai,” Glendening said. “Every time I would go to an event, any time I’d speak on the radio or to the newspaper, the first question was ‘What is wrong with Kenai? What needs to be fixed?’ We’ve been through thick and thin in this community together, and what we need to do is just be for what is coming in the future.”
He said his first priority would be stabilizing Kenai’s Old Town bluffs, the object of an ongoing collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to make a decision to pursue the project within the coming year. The Corps has estimated the bluffs over the Kenai River mouth are eroding at three feet per year, threatening Kenai’s infrastructure and historic and commercial buildings.
“The big priority is the bluff stabilization. It defines the perimeter of our town,” Glendening said. “It secures our history and our culture in Old Town, and it will say whether we can have a Millennium Square, is the Senior Center going to be secure, can we still have economic activity in Old Town? This is a huge thing. We simply cannot fail in this endeavor. We must have the bluff stable.”
Pettey, a financial advisor, could not be reached Tuesday night.
The other candidates were retired Air Force service member and driver Bob McIntosh, retiree Christine Hutchison (who could not be reached for an interview, either), and Jason Floyd, owner of the Ammo Can Coffee shop.
Though he won’t become a council member, McIntosh said he would likely spend as much time on local politics as he would have if elected. He plans to continue his activist projects such the Kenai politics website kenaicityhall.net, his idea of organized community groups interacting with the city council, and advocating for an online comment submission system for proposed ordinances and resolutions.
McIntosh gathered 258 votes. He said he had set a goal of at least 200 votes.
“There’s 258 people who said ‘I like what this guy said,’” McIntosh said. “Up until now I was only sure of one person — I’d only represented myself, so to speak. I think with the 250 here, I’m working for some other people.”
McIntosh and Floyd both said they were unsurprised by the results. Floyd, who ran a campaign “just based on talking with people face-to-face and on the radio” and hadn’t posted any campaign signs, said he thought advertising had been influential.
“When I filed my paperwork, there were only one or two other candidates who were in,” Floyd said. “When five of us jumped in, that broadened the field enough that finances and the campaign approach made a difference.”
Floyd didn’t know if he’d run again next year.
“Next year’s a full year from now. Life happens, things change,” Floyd said. “... It depends on what the city council does between now and then. They could do a lot of things I agree with, and I wouldn’t need to run.”
Floyd said he plans to concentrate on work with his family and business, but also has a political project he plans to continue pushing along outside of the council — a proposal against commercial marijuana which he intends to bring as a ballot measure in Kenai’s next municipal election.
Reach Ben Boettger at email@example.com.