As of 1 a.m. on Wednesday (Nov. 9), a razor-thin margin separated the two top vote-getters in the election for two open seats on the Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board of Directors. The district includes Atherton, East Palo Alto and unincorporated areas, as well as Menlo Park.
Preliminary results reported by Shapethefuture.org show community activist Virginia Chang Kiraly in first place with 2,529 votes, trailed by national security expert Rob Silano with 2,521 votes. Both candidates received union endorsements, as well as backing from local elected officials, despite supporting pension reform.
"Of course I'm very pleased that voters have selected me," Mr. Silano said. "I congratulate Virginia Kiraly and look forward to tackling the district's problems in a constructive fashion."
He praised the community's awareness of the issues facing the district. "When my wife and I were walking neighborhoods, I was so surprised at the educated voters that are out there. Not only about pension reform, which is a very critical topic, but budgets and operating expenses, training and experience," he noted. "It was very rare to come in contact with someone who wasn't informed."
Incumbent Bart Spencer, with 2,369 votes, would lose the seat he's held for 12 years on the board if the gap remains after all mail-in and provisional ballots are counted. He's not quite ready to concede, however, telling the Almanac that during his first election in 1997, an incumbent pulled ahead after lagging behind in the preliminary results.
"Until the votes are counted, I'm proud of being able to give the community 12 years of service. I really have an affinity for the fire service and what they do, and I'm pleased to be able to contribute," he said.
Money may have played a role in the outcome, he commented. "It comes down to how much money you want to spend on a local election, what one feels is an appropriate amount to spend versus the amount of return. When you're spending more than $40,000 or $50,000 on local election, is that an appropriate amount? It's just a question each individual person has to ask."
Mr. Spencer estimated he spent between $6,000 and $7,000 on his campaign.
Scott Barnum, a businessman and disaster-preparedness volunteer, came in with 1,426 votes, perhaps indicative of the low profile he kept during the campaign. "My platform was the independent and frugal platform, and a personal predilection, rightly or wrongly, for trying to do it the old-fashioned way where you don't have to spend your way to victory," Mr. Barnum said. "In this day and age, you probably do need to do more marketing. It's hard to go against one's principles. You know have (principles) when they start to hurt a little bit"
He congratulated the winners and said the district was fortunate to have a variety of candidates, compared to uncontested races.
Steve Kennedy, who had a higher profile but a checkered history during a previous term on the board, got 807 votes.
Measure F, which allows the fire district to spend up to $40 million over four years in tax revenues it already collects, passed by 76.8 percent. The measure does not rack up new taxes or costs, but was necessary due to a state law known as the "Gann limit" that effectively caps appropriations for operational expenditures. The current cap of $40 million was approved in 2007, but set to expire at the end of this year.
Ms. Kiraly and Mr. Kennedy were not immediately available for comment.