Emily Jo Cureton, The Triplicate

Gitlin and McNamer stake out their campaign positions

Candidates in the Nov. 6 run-off race for Del Norte County District 1 Supervisor went head to head Thursday night at a forum hosted by the Triplicate.

Two-term incumbent Leslie McNamer and challenger Roger Gitlin delivered scripted statements, fielded four questions on the fly, and even addressed each other during the event at Mary Peacock Elementary School.

Neither candidate had definitive answers on costly trash disposal; both named public safety as the No. 1 priority; and both agreed that the county's budget is stripped bare as can be already.

But as they navigated issues like the Sheriff's Office's recent funding crisis, stalled economic development and the much debated situation with trash, the discussion was punctuated by Gitlin's views about the role of government, countered by McNamer's insistence that ideological extremism is out of place in a non-partisan local race.

McNamer opened:

"This is not a time to fight or bring our national polarized condition to our community. We are stronger than that. In fact, we, Del Norte County, could teach the nation how to get along ... Really Del Norte County is what America stands for. An America that respects one another, supports one another in times of need and stands for everyone's individual freedoms. Support and belief in one another is what works, not fighting or throwing around slogans."

She took partial credit for eight balanced budgets (a challenging state mandate); extended sewer lines; the recent retention of law enforcement jobs imperiled by lost revenues; the establishment of neighborhood watches, senior programs, meth awareness programs for school-aged children, and veteran's services; support of First Five programs for families and increased tourism over the last eight years.

In his opener, Gitlin first painted a picture of the area's blessings and natural beauty, going on to say:

"Del Norte County languishes in a dependency mentality that blocks our road to prosperity. The heavy footprint of state and federal bureaucracy is choking off our country, our county resources at an alarming rate. It restricts our access to our birthright, minimizes the benefits of tourism and depletes our precious tax revenues ... State and federal government must move out of the way of the free enterprise system. Del Norte County can be fixed. I ask for your support in transitioning Del Norte County from dependency to self sufficiency, through tourism and recreation."

Gitlin got to ask the first question of the evening, a chance to put McNamer on the hot seat about any topic of his choosing.

He asked: "Has (Martha) McClure along with Friends of Del Norte and other far left radical factions, endorsed your candidacy?"

McClure is a four-term District 2 representative who's served on the Board of Supervisors with McNamer since 2004. The Friends of Del Norte is a local conservation group and the oft-appellants of coastal development permit applications.

McNamer responded:

"There's a very simple answer to that question. I am a county supervisor. I represent one district. But I am a supervisor of the entire county. Whether it's Republican, Democrat, decline to state - I represent everyone and I will take support from wherever I can get it because I represent those people too," she said, adding that no politicians, groups or parties have officially endorsed her. (Gitlin was endorsed by the county Republican Party.)

McNamer later rejected rumors that her bid for re-election is part of a plan to later resign, so the governor can appoint a Democrat to her seat.

"Those that know me know what a nervous wreck I am doing this, that I would never put myself through this if I planned on resigning," she said.

When McNamer had a chance to question Gitlin, she went with a statement:

"Your theme seems to be: "Let's fix it." Everyone wants to hear, "let's fix it." We all would love to have everything perfect and I think people are so desperate to hear, "Let's fix it," that they jumped on board with you, even though you have not told us what you will fix and how you will fix it."

Gitlin responded without getting into specifics:

"We're broken. Our county is going broke. We don't have the necessary pay for essential services and the arrow is pointing the wrong way and we are not going to get additional help from Sacramento or Washington, D.C ... We need to reallocate precious funds and put them into an area so that people in this community feel this is a quality community. Boarded-up buildings need to be fixed. Private enterprise needs to be welcomed. Get government off our backs. That needs to be corrected and I think I'm the person to do that."

As for specific plans: Gitlin pledged to donate 10 percent of his supervisor salary, about $3,200 annually, to start a blight removal initiative. He also promised to hold quarterly town hall meetings with constituents.

When the forum moderator, Triplicate Editor Richard Wiens, asked how county supervisors could create jobs, Gitlin pulled out a poster showing three billboard mock-ups on each road into Crescent City, reading:

"Welcome to Del Norte County: home of the magnificent redwood trees, the famous Battery Point and St. George Reef Lighthouses and the friendliest business atmosphere in the golden state. Relocate your business to Del Norte County. We want you."

"Considering the fact that the government pays 50 percent of all wages here, how would it help us for government to get out of the way?" Wiens asked Gitlin.

"Well it has to be transitional, weened off," he responded. "We can't do it overnight. It's like heroin. We've got in our veins. We are used to it."

On the question of job creation, McNamer cited consistent county support for the Visitor's Bureau and Chamber of Commerce as a boon for tourism dollars.

When asked if there's a specific example of the county recruiting job creators in her eight years, she paused a long time and said, "No, just that we've worked very hard on increasing the tourism and it's happened and it's brought a lot more money into the community."

Both candidates advocated for required trash pick-up service. McNamer said she supports an ordinance that makes landlords accountable for providing it.

Gitlin said he's "in favor of making our trash service pick-up universal," without specifying if the requirement should apply to property owners or tenants.

During his last turn at the mic, Gitlin brandished a bottle of toothpaste, announcing that he supports the city-wide ballot Measure A to ban fluoride in the water supply.

Back in February he had a different stance, writing in an online editorial that he "did some due diligence research, spoke to not only my dentist, but also spoke with the American Dental Association," and concluded that he did not agree with a potential constituent who approached him "absolutely passionate that fluoride in the city water supply was a poison."

"I could have misled her and told her I supported her position and therefore curry her favor, get her vote, and then do what I felt was right when I was elected. That would be dishonest," he wrote in the Feb. 25 posting to WestRanchBeacon.com.

On Thursday he said his decision to support the fluoride ban was "based on economics," because the additive costs the city about $20,000 dollars per year.

"I'm running for supervisor to effectuate real improvements in our quality of life, to develop coalitions with like-minded thinking supervisors, who see the present model under which Del Norte County is working as unworkable and unsustainable. I'm running for supervisor because I believe I can do a better job than the incumbent," Gitlin closed.

McNamer signed off:

"In my eight years on the Board of Supervisors, one thing I've learned is that nothing gets done working alone. You have to listen to to other thoughts, even those you disagree with ... Being a supervisor means you represent everyone. I don't make campaign promises except that I will always listen. I will always work hard. And I will always do what is best for Del Norte County, my home for the past 60-plus years."

Only residents of Precincts 1, 2 and 3, which generally covers outlying areas north and east of Crescent City, are eligible to vote in the District 1 supervisor race.

Eligible voters statewide have until Oct. 22 to register in order to participate in the Nov. 6 general election.

Reach Emily Jo Cureton at ecureton@triplicate.com.