PORT TOWNSEND — Daniel Toepper was leading Wednesday in the race for the Jefferson County Public Utilities District commissioner seat.
It looked like a squeaker after Tuesday’s initial count of general election ballots which showed just five votes separated Toepper and Tom Brotherton in the nonpartisan countywide election for the District 3 seat on the PUD board.
The second count of ballots on Wednesday widened Toepper’s lead, with a tally of 8,500 votes, or 50.7 percent, to Brotherton’s 8,264 votes, or 49.3 percent.
Brotherton is a retired Boeing Co. engineer who lives in Quilcene. Toepper is a heavy equipment operator who lives in Port Ludlow.
The count on Wednesday was unexpected. The next count will be Friday, according to the Auditor’s Office website.
“Rats,” was the reaction from Brotherton, 73, before the second count Wednesday.
“I’m just treating it like we haven’t had the election,” he quipped.
Brotherton’s son Greg isn’t treating it as such, since the younger Brotherton handily won his race for Jefferson County Commissioner District 3.
The Democrat took 68.18 percent of the vote over Republican Jon Cooke’s 31.82 percent.
“You never know what to expect,” Toepper, 58, said Wednesday morning before the second count.
“It’s been a struggle,” he added, as “I thought I had covered a lot of the bases … with a small, core group of volunteers.”
Both Toepper and Brotherton express enthusiasm for new solar power projects around Jefferson County, and both have ideas for keeping utility rates affordable. Brotherton has said that as a commissioner, he’d propose incentives to encourage businesses to put solar arrays on their rooftops, thus generating electricity on-site, to reduce power purchases from the Bonneville Power Administration.
Toepper, meanwhile, believes the PUD should take on no further debt than it already carries, while seeking to use more in-house and community expertise rather than hiring outside consultants to work on new projects.
“The PUD needs to do a way better job of informing the public” about its work, Toepper said Wednesday.
As an avid attendee of PUD board meetings, “I’ve been engaged in this for the last five years, intimately,” he said.
A 1978 Chimacum High School graduate who is a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302, Toepper describes himself as a blue-collar worker with a “bottom-up” management style.
Brotherton, for his part, hopes people will see his college degrees and management experience as reasons to elect him.
“We’re both nice guys,” he said. But “I’m a trained analyst,” added Brotherton, who retired from Boeing in 2005.
The winner of the District 3 commissioner race will succeed Wayne King, who is retiring after 18 years, to join District 1 commissioner Jeff Randall of Port Townsend and District 2’s Kenneth Collins of Marrowstone Island.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.