Originally published in the North Coast Journal.
A handful of people gathered inside the meeting hall of the Samoa’s Women’s Club last Saturday, sipping coffee and feasting on pastries while they discussed the concerns facing the Samoa Peninsula with Jeff Leonard, a candidate for the Fourth District Humboldt Board of Supervisor seat. And it was ironic, in a way, to have a large campaign sign for Virginia Bass looming across the way.
It paints a picture of the battle manifesting itself for that hotly contested seat, a battle of two titans — incumbent Bonnie Neely and Bass, Mayor of Eureka — who have raised and spent tens of thousands of dollars and have support from powerful interests while Leonard plays the role of the underdog. But it is perhaps the oodles of cash in the race that drives Leonard to craft himself as the independent as he attempts to build a base of support at the grassroots level. This isn’t to say Leonard isn’t raising and spending cash of his own, just not as much.
“Our campaign is all about trying to make deep connections with a couple people at a time,” Leonard said.
This meeting was one of many such intimate neighborhood gatherings Leonard has organized to sell himself to the Fourth District. What Leonard has discovered while conversing with those within the Fourth District, he says, is a sense that Eureka is being left out of the county loop. So he has taken up a Eureka-centric flag, pledging to address the fallout from various county programs like drug treatment facilities.
But Leonard has ideas for how to help the county as a whole. He is passionate about developing green industries and points to Pacific Gas and Electric’s proposed wave energy project as an example of how the area can bring in jobs and green-tech street cred. He also wants to finish projects that are lingering in limbo, such as the Balloon Track/Marina Center project and the rail-to-trail conversion between Eureka and Arcata.
Leonard didn’t have all the answers to the problems facing the peninsula: The aftershock of the Samoa Pulp Mill’s closure, issues with sewer and water infrastructure, and the Samoa Peninsula Fire District, financially bleeding to death with a $100,000 deficit and resorting to fundraisers (one coming up May 8) for survival. But he did have the will to get involved, bring people together, and figure out a solution.
“I’m not interested in being a big fancy politician,” he said. “I’m interested in being a partner.”