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Crowd takes over candidates’ night at Skagit Valley College

Oak Harbor resident Steve Hoffmire (far right) appeals to the moderator for intervention during a political forum at Skagit Valley College last week. Hoffmire alleged that Christon Skinner and Gerry Oliver (far left) were being disrespectful while mayoral hopeful Scott Dudley was speaking. - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor resident Steve Hoffmire (far right) appeals to the moderator for intervention during a political forum at Skagit Valley College last week. Hoffmire alleged that Christon Skinner and Gerry Oliver (far left) were being disrespectful while mayoral hopeful Scott Dudley was speaking.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

A candidate forum in Oak Harbor last week just may have been the most memorable of the year, seeing everything from wild accusations and impassioned appeals for courtesy from the crowd to a candidate’s unexpected dash from the room.

The political forum was the last time Oak Harbor City Council, mayoral and school board candidates would face off publicly before the Nov. 8 general election. Held at Skagit Valley College Wednesday, the event was sponsored by the school’s associated student government and attracted a crowd of about 50 people.

Much like other forums that have been held in recent months, the evening saw candidates sparring over familiar issues such as Pioneer Way, government transparency and plans for economic development.

But city races this year have also been hotly contested. And given the proximity of Election Day, one might have expected a free-flow of low-blows and potshots among candidates. But, as it turned out, it was the crowd that ended up being the most spirited.

Perhaps one of the worst offenses came when a woman asked city council candidate Paul Brewer if he beat his wife. The question resulted in an uproar from the crowd and loud shouts of “Don’t answer that.”

But, true to his character, Brewer tackled the question head on. It’s a rumor that is absolutely false, he said, and was brought up years ago when he was running for office. He pointed out that a local newspaper looked into the issue but “wouldn’t touch it” because it just wasn’t true.

“If I had done that it would have been on the front page of the Whidbey News-Times,” Brewer said.

A reporter from the Whidbey News-Times did look into the allegation years ago and determined it to be unfounded. The woman who asked the question Wednesday refused to provide her name, saying she works at the college.

Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik was also the subject of crowd suspicions. When confronted by the moderator for making a commotion, Shane Hoffmire, a vocal advocate of the rejected two-way design of Pioneer Way, said it appeared Slowik was receiving text-messages from the crowd while at the dais.

The accusation was the result of the mayor’s habit of looking down and fiddling with an object hidden behind the table while his challenger, Oak Harbor City Councilman Scott Dudley, was speaking.

Responding to Hoffmire’s claim, Slowik held up a water-bottle cap for the crowd’s inspection. Despite his proclaimed innocence, after the meeting several others in the room said they also believed the mayor was receiving text messages.

But Slowik supporters didn’t come off so well either. Both Christon Skinner, a prominent Oak Harbor attorney, and Gerry Oliver, a well-known real estate broker, had their hands slapped by the moderator after Steve Hoffmire, Shane’s father, accused them of making disrespectful noises while Dudley was speaking.

Hoffmire said the huffs and puffs coming from their direction was a “bully tactic” and asked the moderator, 17-year-old student government president Lauren Cribb, to intervene. Stepping up to the plate, Cribb asked the crowd to be respectful of all the candidates and keep any derogatory remarks to themselves.

Cribb’s courage and professionalism earned her praise from many in the crowd, including her mother, Christine Cribb, who is running in an uncontested race for Oak Harbor School Board Position 3.

“I thought it was the liveliest of all the forums and I think she deserves a gold medal,” said Christine Cribb, in a later interview.

Finally, in what was perhaps the most heart-rending and human event of the evening, Oak Harbor City Council candidate Mel Vance lost an inner battle concerning his fear of public speaking and ran from the room during his opening statement.

To his credit, however, Vance returned shortly and took his place beside incumbent Rick Almberg at the dais. He remained at the forum for the remainder of the evening, answering every question asked of him.

 

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