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Rivals wage friendly campaign

Patrick McCartney

Demonstrating small-town politics at its best, the two candidates campaigning for an open seat on the South Tahoe Public Utility District have taken the high road in their quest for office.

Pembroke Gochnauer, a commercial real estate broker, and David Kelly, an affirmative action commissioner, are continuing active campaigns down to the 11th hour before Tuesday’s election.

Of the two first-time candidates, Gochnauer has been around district politics longer. He almost ran four years ago, but passed on the race when Chris Strohm filed and won.

Gochnauer gave a spirited defense of the district at a showdown hearing over proposed fine for a wastewater spill before the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, and not long after was approached to run.

He acknowledges receiving advice from current board members and believes the district is generally well-run.

“I’m impressed with the quality of management, but I was before,” Gochnauer said.

Gochnauer will end up spending about $1,500, receiving about $1,000 in donations including $300 from the board of realtors.

Yet, Gochnauer believes the district should spend more time in explaining why it needs to spend the money to replace the wastewater export line and test for contaminants that threaten its water wells.

Kelly, despite spending about half the money of his opponent, has been busy seeking out voters to talk with and busy researching the district’s operations.

“In a small town, you don’t have to go too far to find an audience,” he explained.

While he is not openly critical of the district’s policies, Kelly is more outspoken in setting an agenda if he is elected.

“I know there are people who say there is no controversy this year, but there are differences in what we think the priorities are,” Kelly said.

Kelly said he wants to study alternatives to future sewer rate increases, saying the possibility of selling hydroelectric power from the district’s wastewater export line in Alpine County should be studied.

“There’s no consensus among the people I have heard from except they want to keep their rates down,” Kelly said. “People want somebody they can talk to.”

Like his opponent, Kelly said he has been impressed by the district’s staff. He also identifies the need to prevent contamination of the district’s 36 wells as a high priority.

The largest difference between the two candidates may be in the constituencies they represent. While Gochnauer has been active in business and youth sports, Kelly has volunteered for numerous community groups, including the city’s affirmative action commission, Nevada Easter Seal Society and the Tahoe Area Coordinating Council for the Disabled.

Gochnauer summed up the election dynamics days before the vote.

“We have different circles we can count on,” Gochnauer said. “Mine is community sports and local business, and David has helped the seniors and the disadvantaged. We are two nice guys who like each other, but who are running for the same office.”

Although Gochnauer has raised more money in the campaign, he also was criticized by one person whom he had listed as a supporter in an advertisement, but who took issue with the public endorsement.

“I already apologized,” Gochnauer said of the disagreement, saying he made an honest mistake.


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