Slowik concedes Oak Harbor mayoral race
By JUSTIN BURNETT
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
November 12, 2011 · Updated 6:15 PM
After months of fervent campaigning and passionate debate, the race for Oak Harbor’s top seat is finally over. City Councilman Scott Dudley is the city’s new mayor.
According to election results released Thursday by the Island County Auditor’s Office, Dudley retained throughout the week his commanding 13 percent lead over incumbent Jim Slowik. Dudley has earned 2,523 votes — 56.58 percent — to Slowik’s 1,936 votes, which is 43.42 percent.
With so wide a margin, there is little hope for a comeback and Slowik has conceded the race. On Wednesday, he took Dudley into the fold by inviting him to City Hall to meet with department heads and bring him up to speed on current issues so the mayor elect will have what he needs to hit the ground running Jan. 1.
“That was nice,” Dudley said. “He didn’t have to do that but he did.”
“The mayor has been very gracious in ensuring the transition moves forward smoothly,” he added.
Slowik had expected to win another term and admitted he was surprised by the first results released Tuesday. But he called the election a “definitive vote” that made clear the public’s desire for change. The people have made their choice and it’s now time to get behind the winner, he said.
“I think it starts with me,” Slowik said.
Reactions in Oak Harbor to the mayoral election results are across the board. For many, it’s news that brings about feelings of jubilation and hopes of a bright new beginning. For others, it’s a crushing disappointment and just the thought of Dudley at the helm sets off the butterflies in their stomachs.
Les Bense, owner of Oak Tree Antiques on SE Pioneer Way, said he was “overjoyed” by the news. A strong supporter of a two-way street design for downtown, Bense has been a vocal critic of Slowik and the city council.
“The only thing bad about (the election) is we have two other council members still in there,” Bense said.
He was referring to City Council members Rick Almberg and Beth Munns, who retained their seats against challengers Mel Vance and Larry Eaton. Based on Thursday’s count, Almberg claimed a sweeping win with 62.31 percent of the vote as did Munns with an impressive 56.08 percent. Political newcomer Tara Hizon has also triumphed over Paul Brewer, taking home 55.7 percent of the vote.
Bense and several other Dudley supporters, including Oak Harbor Police Lt. Tim Sterkel, said they fully expected their candidate to win at the polls but admitted to being surprised at the wide margin.
“I thought it was going to be a lot closer than it was,” Sterkel said.
Out of 17 total voter precincts in Oak Harbor, Dudley won all but two. While several were narrow victories – Precinct 12 was a difference of just one vote – Slowik did best in Precinct 8, capturing 254 votes to Dudley’s 179.
From north to south, the Precinct 8 stretches from SW Sixth Avenue to SW Scenic Heights Street; from west to east, it spans from SW Heller Street to S. Oak Harbor Street.
Slowik supporter Gerry Oliver said he and many others did not expect Dudley to beat Slowik so soundly.
“I think people were generally shocked,” he said.
Oliver, owner of Go Realty, said he believes Dudley won this election through a combination of tapping into voter frustration over a range of issues, including Pioneer Way, and with a good-old-fashioned, door-to-door campaign effort.
“You have to take your hat off to Scott,” Oliver said. “He ran a great campaign.”
Dudley visited just about every home in Oak Harbor over the past few months. He agreed it was a successful campaign tactic, but said he didn’t have to do much when it came to the downtown road project.
“It was funny because I didn’t have to bring it up,” Dudley said.
People talked about about it all on their own. He believes his victory at the polls was due largely to a general dissatisfaction with the way the project was handled, and because he took the time to make a personal visit. Slowik said he couldn’t know for sure why he lost but, like Oliver, he credited Dudley for his campaign efforts.
“If Scott can be as good a mayor as he was at campaigning, the city will be in good shape,” Slowik said.
Oliver, who also worked as Hizon’s campaign manager, said he still doesn’t know what Dudley “stands for or what he plans to do,” but that he’s eager to see whether he will live up to being the “great leader he claims to be.”
Even some Dudley supporters say they will be watching with a wary eye. Robyn Kolaitis, an active Republican woman, said she’s satisfied with the election results but has been disappointed before. Four years ago, she supported Slowik for mayor.
“We’ve learned to not get too excited about politicians,” Kolaitis said. “You just have to wait and see what happens.”
With so many eyes now just on him, Dudley said he’s eager to get to work and make sure the voter’s confidence is not misplaced.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Justin Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-675-6611 ext. 5054.