Thursday, November 6, 2008
By the time the polls closed Tuesday night, the banquet room at Hullaballoo Restaurant in Oldtown Salinas was standing room only, jammed with local Democratic party royalty.
“This is our night,” said Margaret Serna-Bonetti, Salinas Valley Democratic Club Vice President and Salinas Union High School District Trustee. “This is what we’ve worked so hard for,” she said, nodding toward a 65-inch projection TV version of Barack Obama.
About two feet away, Salinas City Councilwoman Jyl Lutes didn’t look so convinced. “I’m so nervous,” she said on Nov. 4, wringing her hands and glancing at the screen every couple of seconds to check the status of her own race against newcomer Vince Ferrante. The polls had just closed, and even early returns were another hour away.
A few minutes after 8pm, and with his race against Jeff Taylor solidified, Rep. Sam Farr scooped up a mic and further frenzied the crowd. “This is the people’s victory,” Farr said, “but tomorrow, school starts for us.”
Lutes still wrung her hands and gripped her glass of wine. “I’m just not done yet,” she said. “I love this city.”
The last real challenge Lutes faced was 10 years ago, when she squared off against perennial candidate J.T. James, and then-unknown (and current state Sen.) Jeff Denham. Lutes won the open seat and has held it since.
“I have so much left to do– like Caltrain,” she said, referring to the proposal to bring Caltrain to Salinas. “I want to see it happen, and by God I’m gonna be on it.”
While some tipsy Dems plotted pay-backs for a Bush/Cheney sign that was shoved under their office door the morning after the 2004 election, the club’s office manager Teri Short Vasconcellos continued her thoughts on the election and its other big winners.
“We chose to endorse [judicial candidate] Mark Hood,” she said, “because we felt he best represented the kind of role model we wanted in that position.” Hood won with 59 percent of the vote.
Across the room, standing near Salinas City Councilman Steve Villegas and a campaign-button’s throw of Monterey County Supervisor Simón Salina, Lutes swirled her wine and pondered her future. “This is it for me,” she said. “I want to finish what I set out to do, and then it’s time for new ideas and new blood on the council. That’s how this city will thrive, by turning the leadership over to newcomers.”
Later. Just after 9pm, with a hefty lead over Ferrante (Lutes handily won with 59 percent), Lutes loosened up. “I’m so proud to be a Democrat,” she hollered to the crowd with a fist pumped high into the air. “I’m so proud to be a member of this city. And I’m so very, very proud to be your friend.”