Running against the established: 4 new candidates bring diverse experience, new ideas
Dakotah McGinlay sat on the edge of her seat Tuesday night as she watched election return updates on the District 3 Steamboat Springs City Council race.
After the Routt County Clerk and Recorder’s Office released the first round of results, McGinlay felt anxious but excited about her three-vote lead over fellow candidate and former city council member Walter Magill. As more results came in, McGinlay’s margin of victory continued to expand, and the final batch of counted votes showed she had narrowly beaten Magill by 130 votes to win the seat.
Almost 24 hours later, McGinlay is still reeling a little from the outcome.
“It hasn’t fully sunk in,” McGinlay said. “I was just so on edge because of how close it was that I had no idea which way it was going to go, and it was very nerve-wracking.”
A fresh perspective
At age 26, McGinlay may be the youngest candidate ever elected to Steamboat Springs City Council. She ran against three others, including Magill, a former council president.
“This whole process has been intimidating, and whenever Walter’s name came up, people were like, ‘Oh boy, you’re running against Walter (Magill,)” McGinlay said. “They kind of had a tone, like I should be ready for a challenging campaign.”
McGinlay joins three other incoming council members who will make up a majority of the council starting Tuesday. None of the new members have prior experience on city councils or boards, and three of the four beat out former council members and a current planning commissioner.
Joella West, who will represent District 2 alongside current council member Michael Buccino, said she believes the people elected to council were directly related to a frustration she thinks some community members have felt with previous councils.
“I think there has been a concern in the past that decisions that council has made have maybe not been in the best interest of everyone in town,” West said. “It’s time to push things in the direction that will allow us to have the life that we all believe we should have in Steamboat.”
Scott Ford, a former council member, said four newcomers on council can provide a different set of perspectives, which he believes will benefit the community.
“We would have been OK with any of them, but this new council has a much broader perspective across many different things,” Ford said. “I think this reflects the broad diversity of thought that’s out there.”
Though she agreed that new members can bring innovative ideas, outgoing council member Kathi Meyer said new members will have a significant learning curve, particularly because they may not be as familiar with city processes as those who have previously served on boards and commissions.
“Some people have described their first year on council as drinking from a fire hose,” Meyer said.
Did real estate play a role?
All candidates running for City Council agreed on many issues — the need to take action against climate change, the demand for affordable housing and the urgency for access to child care — but they disagreed widely on if, and how, to regulate short-term rentals, a debate the current council has been grappling with for about six months.
District 2 candidate Loui Antonucci, for example, said he did not support an overlay zone banning or restricting short-term rentals under any circumstances.
In contrast, McGinlay said she supported a cap on how many short-term rentals could be allowed in a certain area, a measure that the city has not yet discussed, and short-term rental advocate Sarah Bradford called “a drastic measure that creates a game of winners and losers.”
Three of the four candidates who lost their races — Dave Moloney, David Baldinger Jr. and Antonucci — are real estate agents and received donations from other real estate agents and/or short-term rental property managers.
Because of this, Meyer said she felt the title “Realtor” behind a candidate’s name may not have been popular at a time when affordable housing and short-term rentals are two hotly contested issues facing the community.
“Since this whole short-term rental thing is still front and center, this is not a year to be a Realtor and running for council,” Meyer said, adding that she believed the number of candidates running in each race may have split the vote for candidates who could have won if only running against one candidate.
“I think one or more Realtors could have gotten it had certain people not split the ticket,” Meyer said.
In campaigning and interacting with community members, West said many of the people she talked to wanted tighter regulations around short-term rentals, which she believed may not come from a council with three real estate agents.
“I have absolutely nothing against Realtors,” West said. “But I tend to agree that we need to turn our attention to having a little more control over our environment in this town so that we don’t end up being the place where people with an enormous amount of money come to spend their retirement, and there is no one to work in the restaurants or the markets.”
Eddie Briones, who will represent the at-large seat, agreed with West, adding that he had concerns about the ethics of real estate brokers voting on issues that would impact their businesses.
“If you’re a real estate broker and a lot of the issues in town have to do with real estate and housing stuff, how do you vote on that?” Briones said. “I have nothing against them. I think they’re great guys, but I just think, in general, the feeling was people wanted something different.”
The Steamboat Springs Community Preservation Alliance, a short-term rental advocacy group, endorsed the three Realtor candidates and Magill — none of whom won their races.
In interviews with Steamboat Pilot & Today, Antonucci, Baldinger, Moloney and Magill said they did not ask for the endorsement and would still listen to all sides of the short-term rental debate if elected to council.
“I think all they really want is a fair shake, and I don’t think they’re looking for someone to actually take their side,” Antonucci said.
Moloney agreed with Antonucci and said that real estate and short-term rental groups that supported him likely did so because he has worked as a Realtor in town for decades, not because they believed he would give them special favors as a council member.
“I’m in the industry, and people know me, and I attended some of those City Council meetings relative to the moratorium and perhaps those folks liked what I have to say,” Moloney said.
Meyer said she knows Moloney, Baldinger, Jr., and Antonucci personally and believed they would have fairly and ethically represented the city.
“I think there was a perception, but David and Loui are community servants first and Realtors second,” Meyer said.
The Steamboat way
Garey attended the downtown Halloween Stroll dressed as one of her campaign yard signs.
Briones painted the city in black and yellow signs that read “Keepin’ it Steamboat.”
McGinlay knocked on more doors than she can possibly remember.
“It was a lot about listening and meeting people and hearing what their thoughts are — what’s keeping them up at night,” Garey said.
The four candidates elected to council agreed that Steamboat is rapidly changing, and the future character of the community was a factor in the election.
“We need to work together to keep Steamboat a community that works for everyone,” Garey said. “That’s what we love about this community … we know our neighbors.”
Each candidate also highlighted the importance of ensuring Steamboat has affordable and attainable housing for those who work in town.
Data from the Longitudinal Employer Household Dynamics, a database collected by the United States Census Bureau, shows that in 2019, only 40.9% of those employed in Steamboat actually lived in town. In 2010, the number was 45.1%.
“It’s the teachers and the fire fighters,” Garey said. “It’s the people who work in this community and can’t live here. As I look at the candidates that won, I think that’s one of the primary issues that was being voted on yesterday.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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