Pat Malone, the 70-year-old Kings Valley Christmas tree farmer with deep roots in Benton County, emerged as the clear winner in the six-way race to choose the Democratic nominee for the Position 1 seat on the Benton County Board of Commissioners.
In unofficial returns updated shortly after 10 p.m. Tuesday, Malone was leading with 4,808 votes or 41 percent of ballots cast in the Democratic Party primary.
Nancy Wyse and Vince Adams split most of the remaining support from Benton County Democrats. Wyse, who represents Ward 6 on the Corvallis City Council, had 2,824 votes, while Adams, president of the Corvallis School Board, had 2,566
Christine Kramer, a self-employed dog groomer with no political experience, was in fourth place with 523 votes, followed by former Corvallis City Councilor Joel Hirsch with 504 votes and current Ward 8 Corvallis City Councilor Mark Page with 363 votes.
Both Wyse and Adams said they would consider running again in two years, when the Position 2 and 3 seats on the board will be up for election.
Malone, who was attending an election night watch party with about 50 local Democratic loyalists at the Old World Deli in downtown Corvallis, said he thought his long record of community involvement served him well during the campaign, as did his name recognition from his unsuccessful bid for the post four years ago.
“I had run before (and) I’m relatively active in the community,” he said. “And the endorsements were helpful.”
Malone received support from a number of well-known area Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, state Sen. Sara Gelser, state Rep. Dan Rayfield and County Commissioner Annabelle Jaramillo.
In a brief acceptance speech from the dais of the Old World Deli, Malone urged his fellow Democrats to help him win in November and to support the party’s candidates for the Legislature, the governor’s office and Congress.
“One person can make a difference – I believe that,” Malone said. “But one person with a lot of support can make a big difference.”
Adams said he was not surprised that the victory went to Malone, with his solid name recognition, or that he and Wyse soaked up most of the remaining votes in a crowded field that featured more candidates than any local primary in recent memory.
“What I thought would happen happened, that Nancy and I would split,” he said. “We were so similar on the issues – and we’re both redheads.”
Wyse, reached by phone, said Malone ran a strong campaign and would make a good county commissioner.
“I think Pat’s going to do a good job, assuming does get through the November election, which I have every faith that he will,” she said.
The only spot on the three-member board up for election this year, the Position 1 seat was open because of the impending retirement of Commissioner Anne Schuster, who plans to step down when her term ends on Dec. 31.
No Republicans or Independents filed to run for the seat, so neither party was represented in the primary election.
One unaffiliated candidate, Max Mania, has announced plans to run in the Nov. 6 general election. Mania won’t be an official candidate until he files a petition with at least 488 valid signatures from registered Benton County voters.
May 30 is the first day that unaffiliated candidates and those representing minor parties can hand in petitions. The last day to file is Aug. 28.
The three-member Board of Commissioners is the county’s elected legislative body, setting policy and enacting ordinances. The commissioners supervise the county administrator and preside over an organization with about 450 employees and an annual budget of around $122 million. The starting salary for a first-term commissioner is about $84,000 a year.
Page’s chances may have been hurt by revelations about his past in the Gazette-Times. In a story published April 22, the newspaper reported that Page owed $140,000 in back child support payments, that the Department of Veterans Affairs disputes his claim to have been officially designated “unemployable,” that he has a domestic violence incident on his record and that Kansas State University has no record of the bachelor’s degree he claims to have earned.
Page says he is making payments on his child support debt based on his income; that he is appealing the “unemployable” designation; that the domestic violence conviction was dismissed after he completed anger management classes; and that he received a certificate of completion for his Kansas State coursework, but it was stolen.
On the same day, the Gazette-Times also reported that Kramer had acknowledged underreporting income from her dog-grooming business on her tax returns. And last week the newspaper reported that Kramer had pleaded guilty and been sentenced to probation for a felony cocaine possession charge in New York in 1985.
Kramer insists she understated her income by only a small amount – she says it was $70 – and that the drug arrest was a youthful mistake that does not define her.