July 13, 2024

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From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

A gambler’s guide to the Ward 7 appointment

4 min read
Paul Conte recaps Monday's deadlocked votes for an interim Ward 7 councilor, and offers his gambler's guide on what to look for and how to bet on Wednesday's action.

by Paul Conte

If betting on something as foreign (literally) as the FIFA World Cup Championships isn’t your style, how about a wager closer to home:

Which applicant will the Eugene City Council appoint today as the interim Ward 7 city councilor, filling the vacancy left by the recall of former councilor Claire Syrett?

Whichever way you bet, local voters could either hit the jackpot or go bust. Here’s my handicap.

The first thing to know is that the seven councilors are divided into two tribes:

  • The Keating Three (not to be confused with the infamous “Keating Five”), comprising Matt Keating (political savant and future Oregon senator), Jennifer Yeh, and Alan Zelenka;
  • Los Tres Amigos, comprising Mike Clark (a grandmaster of three-dimensional political gamesmanship), Greg Evans, and Randy Groves.

The ringer is Emily Semple, the “free agent” being recruited by both tribes.

The Keating Three champion Lyndsie Leech, while Barbie Walker is the pick of Los Tres Amigos. It might seem that needing only one vote, either Leech or Walker would be the best bet. But the intransigent tribalism of the six councilors means neither tribe can get the necessary vote from the other tribe.

Thus, the pivotal role of Semple, who for every good reason, doesn’t want to feed the tribalism by supporting either tribe’s champion. No fourth vote for Leech or Walker is going to happen. Either would be a sucker’s bet.

Faced with failure on the first round of voting, Los Tres Amigos revealed their coordinated Plan B, as all three voted for Carol Zorn. That was perhaps a tactical mistake because it telegraphed clearly that this tribe would move from their first choice as long as they could defeat the Keating Three.

But Semple saw through the Amigos’ “compromise” as simply substituting another applicant likely to join their tribe.

Semple’s choice, Thomas Hiura, got her vote and a second from Matt Keating (somewhat of a surprise into which too much can’t be read).

Round one ended in deadlock, with no applicant getting the necessary four votes. That makes it very interesting for round two today. Here is this handicapper’s math.

Leech and Walker are done. No member of either tribe will cross over to support the other tribe’s champion, no way, no how. And Semple won’t provide the fourth vote for either.

That leaves only three plausible outcomes, any of which could happen:

  1. The Keating Three join Semple in voting for Thomas Hiura, who is independent, pragmatic, and generally liberal-leaning. He wouldn’t join their tribe, but he wouldn’t be an antagonist, as would Barbie Walker or Carol Zorn.
  2. One of the Keating Three breaks and adds the fourth vote for Zorn. This is less likely, but still a possibility if, say, for some reason Alan Zelenka wishes to block Hiura.
  3. Final deadlock, and the council fails to appoint anyone.

Hiura cannot get more than one vote from Los Tres Amigos because of scurrilous anonymous attacks on Hiura that some—lacking the time for fair or adequate due diligence—may have accepted.

Deadlock isn’t at all the end of the world, at least not for Los Tres Amigos. There is no penalty for council failing to make the appointment. It would take someone to file Circuit Court action for a writ of mandamus to order the Council to appoint someone or face contempt penalties.

Deadlock would leave in place the current seven councilors, which would be an excellent outcome for Los Tres Amigos because it would eliminate what had been, until Claire Syrett was recalled, a five-vote majority of Keating, Yeh, Zelenka, Syrett, and Mayor Vinis as the tiebreaker. With only seven councilors, the Mayor never has a vote as a tiebreaker.

For the Keating Three, on the other hand, deadlock would be a much less preferable outcome than appointing Thomas Hiura. With Hiura, they would at least not be in a minority position and would have an nonaligned councilor who would be at least open to the views of this tribe.

So where is the smart bet? That’s easy: The Keating Three all vote with Semple for Hiura.

But “smart” doesn’t mean likely. Los Tres Amigos are almost certain to stay stuck and gladly accept deadlock. So, if even one of the Keating Three tenders some grudge against Hiura and votes “No” on his appointment, then Los Tres Amigos would win their gamble by either outcome – deadlock or the appointment of Zorn.

My final handicap is even odds on appointment of Hiura or deadlock.

The key things to watch today:

  • Does Semple hold to her support for Hiura despite immense pressure from Los Tres Amigos? I think so.
  • Does Zelenka shoot himself and his two comrades in the foot by rejecting Hiura and voting for Zorn? Maybe, maybe not.

Flip a coin to pick Hiura or deadlock and hold onto your hat.

Paul Conte, considered by many to be a wealthy old white guy who lives in Sunriver, is a veteran handicapper whose tip sheet draws on his years of observation in the City Council stables.

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