SLO Mayor Heidi Harmon vows to bridge community divide after big win

In the wake of a commanding victory after “contentious and difficult race,” re-elected San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon said the community showed they’re supportive of the work of the City Council and a “positive, fact-based and constructive approach.”

Harmon topped challenger T. Keith Gurnee by a nearly 22 percent margin, earning 59.7 percent of the vote compared to Gurnee’s 37.5 percent, with 100 percent of the precincts reporting as of 11:10 a.m. Wednesday.

She’ll join two other unofficial winners — Carlyn Christianson, who had 26.9 percent of the vote Wednesday, and Erica Stewart, who had 20.6 percent — if those votes hold up after mail-in and provisional ballots are counted. That would ensure a progressive council aligned on issues relating to environment, housing and alternative forms of transportation, including bikeways.

Harmon held an election night party Tuesday that drew about 400 people to Kreuzberg Cafe in San Luis Obispo throughout the night, she told The Tribune in a phone conversation.

She spoke Wednesday of a bright city future but mentioned a “scary” national tenor that has hints of the build-up to World War II.

“I’m concerned about climate change, income inequality and racism and nationalism,” Harmon said. “Wide swaths of the country are thinking and behaving in a way that isn’t unlike moments before World War II. Leaders of all types, including mayors are called to stand up for justice.”

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Harmon told The Tribune that she was concerned about Gurnee’s authenticity as a candidate. As one example, she cited Gurnee’s decision to change his party registration from Republican to Democrat weeks before the election.

She also said the city has a “small but loud and consistently disgruntled” contingent who has opposed the city’s direction on a number of development decisions.

Vocal opposition to the City Council’s approved Anholm Bikeway Plan, San Luis Ranch and Avila Ranch developments, and its move to increase building heights to 75 feet in the upper Monterey corridor, sparked fierce debate during Harmon’s first term as mayor. But she vowed to mend the fences of community divide.

“While there has been division in this election cycle, my intention, my hope, my promise, is to prioritize bringing the people of San Luis Obispo back together,” Harmon said in a statement. “My hope is that no matter how you voted and no matter where you stand on the issues, that we will continue to work together to create a brighter future for our city.”

San Luis Obispo mayoral candidates T. Keith Gurnee and Heidi Harmon take part in a debate at Cal Poly hosted by Cal Poly’s Mustang Media Group before Tuesday’s election. Harmon won a second term as San Luis Obispo mayor. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Harmon told The Tribune that she invites critics of the city’s direction to contact her office, and added that community events in coming months will also offer opportunities to work together.

“I think we can find ways to work together to articulate the kind of community we want,” Harmon said. “I’m absolutely willing to make that happen.”

Harmon said that she will hold a press conference Tuesday to talk about new policies and initiatives, including the possibility of a ranked-choice city voting system in which candidates are chosen based on a voter preference system. Such a system could take into consideration second-place votes if no candidate wins an outright majority of first-place votes.

“I’m still researching this and how it could work,” Harmon said. “But it could increase candidate participation, which I think would be a benefit.”