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North ward race takes bizarre turn

Frank Renna, Jr. and Jeannie McMacken -
Frank Renna, Jr. and Jeannie McMacken
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Frank Renna, Jr. advances to the general ballot, despite ‘dropping out.’

Despite dropping out of the race for a north ward council seat weeks earlier, Frank Renna, Jr. sailed into second place behind incumbent Debbie Vancil in Tuesday’s primary election, bumping advertising professional Jeannie McMacken.

“A few weeks ago I would have told you I was going to be headed to Crater Lake right now, enjoying a vacation,” Renna said by telephone from Oregon Friday. “Now I’m thinking a lot about this election. I’ve taken a couple days to think about it and I’ve decided to run (again).”

Renna’s showing at the polls stunned McMacken, who vowed that she would wait till the last vote was counted before conceding, despite trailing Renna by 7 percentage points in unofficial returns Friday afternoon.

“I’m in this race to win it,” McMacken said. “I’m not in it to come in second or third.”

As of Friday afternoon, McMacken had netted 22 percent of the vote, putting her in third place behind Renna’s 29 percent and Vancil’s 50 percent.

A third-place spot means McMacken will not advance to November’s general election, regardless of whether Renna is in or out of the race, according to elections officials.

McMacken blamed her third-place showing on rumors that she had been anointed by councilman and mayoral hopeful Nezam Tooloee to unseat Vancil.

She also took a hit from an island political website that she said mischaracterized her as weak on environmental issues.

“There was a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes,” McMacken said. “The first time I heard rumors about Nezam picking me to run, I laughed.

“After the 18th time, I really got angry.”

Tooloee said any talk of his involvement in McMacken’s campaign has “zero credibility.”

McMacken said an interview published on the BainbridgeVoter.org site did not include her position on the Critical Areas Ordinance.

Instead, the site said: “Jeannie has declined to offer an answer to this important question. It leaves us questioning this candidate’s true position on critical issues for the island.”

The site’s editor, Barry Peters, said McMacken had declined to state a position on the CAO for nearly three weeks. Peters said the interview presented McMacken’s overall “environmental sensitivity” but noted where she had declined comment.

Despite McMacken’s accusation that the site showed favoritism toward Renna, Peters said the site does not endorse candidates.

McMacken also said a lack of public forums for council candidates and little media coverage contributed to her third-place position.

Renna said he was surprised he won, after stressing to supporters that he was no longer seeking a council seat.

“I wish I could explain this,” he said. “I honestly don’t know how it happened.”

Renna surmises that his statement in the county voter guide may have resonated with voters. The statement stressed his professional and educational qualifications, including degrees in engineering, business administration and executive management.

The need for growth management was also mentioned repeatedly in his statement, as well as maintaining the island’s quality of life and increased collaboration between residents and city government.

With 698 votes to McMacken’s 519, Renna believes himself clearly in second position behind Vancil’s 1,193 as the final ballots trickle in.

Renna’s earlier announcement that he’d withdrawn carries little weight with the county elections office. Even if he had not decided to stay in the race this week, McMacken would not have advanced to the general election.

“The fact is, even though (Renna) expressed his desire to withdraw, he did not express that soon enough to be taken off the ballot or to successfully withdraw as a candidate according to Washington state law,” said Kitsap County Auditor Karen Flynn. “So, if he attempts to withdraw after deadline they’re (still) on ballot and may be elected” in November.

Renna said he’s not sure how he drew so many votes after making it clear he was not running.

“I let people know I did not believe I could effectively run a campaign” during the primary, he said. “I absolutely, sincerely did nothing to promote myself.”

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