The 2023 general election featured a wave of fresh faces winning mayor’s races in municipalities across Grays Harbor County, a transition of leadership that will mostly occur in January after outgoing mayors serve the rest of their terms.
While other races still hang in the balance one month after election day, Frank Elduen has already filled the mayor’s office in Ocean Shores. On Nov. 27 he participated in his final meeting as an Ocean Shores city council member, and the next day, following the certification of his 500-vote, 15% victory over incumbent Jon Martin, was sworn in as the new mayor of Ocean Shores.
Washington state law mandates the immediate turnover for political positions in which an appointed incumbent candidate loses an election. That was the case for Martin, who was appointed from his position on the Ocean Shores City Council by that same body in 2021, following the death of Mayor Crystal Dingler.
In an interview from his new office on Friday, Elduen said the transition has gone smoothly so far. He spent the first week on the job meeting with the city’s various department heads, who brought him up to speed on the workings of the city. For Elduen’s part, he said he “told them to relax, nothing crazy’s gonna happen,” referencing the transition in leadership.
“People always get nervous, when it’s an unknown,” he said. “You come in and you’re an unknown, people don’t know what to expect. They’re nervous about change. But it’s gone real well.”
Elduen takes on the mayor’s role after four years on the city council. His former seat, Position 3, is temporarily vacant, but Lisa Griebel, who defeated Susan Conniry by 16-votes in the recent election, is slated to fill it in January.
Two of the five city races in Ocean Shores were contested until certification day. The race for Position 6 on the city council finished with Richard Wills leading Peggy Jo Faria by one vote and won’t be certified until after elections officials complete a manual recount on Wednesday.
Unlike the tight council contests, the mayor’s race was never close. On election day, Nov. 7. Elduen jumped out to a 250-vote lead and doubled the margin following subsequent ballot counts. He finished with 2,063 votes, or 57%, compared to Martin’s 1,543 votes, or 43%.
“I thought it would be closer than that. I guess you always think that,” Elduen said. “I did a lot of door knocking and meeting with the public.”
He added, “I definitely want to do a good job, and I feel an obligation to the citizens to give them my best. I really appreciate the support I got from the public during this race, and obviously at the ballot box.”
With 3,612 ballots cast, more people voted in the Ocean Shores mayor’s race than in any other municipal election in 2023 in Grays Harbor County. That’s almost 1,000 more voters than participated in the election for mayor of Aberdeen, a city with nearly 3,000 more registered voters than Ocean Shores. Voter turnout for the beach town’s mayoral race was 57%, compared to a county-wide turnout of 32%, and a 30% turnout for the Aberdeen mayor’s race.
“I’m really impressed with the citizen engagement here in town,” Elduen said.
Martin, who served in his final meeting as mayor on Nov. 27 after six years on the council and two in the city’s top office, said his active campaigning waned in the months leading up to the election as he devoted more time to caring for his wife amid health complications.
“I’ve served eight years for the city of Ocean Shores and I’m fine with the decision that people make,” he said.
The loss comes about one year after Martin decided to forego his corporate job at McDonald’s to devote more time to the mayor’s office, a shift that also raised the mayor’s salary to $65,000, where it will remain at least for the duration of Elduen’s four-year term. Elduen was one of two council members to oppose raising the mayor’s salary last fall, when he added a contingency to the ordinance stating the salary will drop to $12,000 if the city ever chooses to rehire an engineer or public works director.
Martin said he feels the city is in a “real good place” after his time in service, including with staffing and finances, and said despite the election loss he is “very optimistic of where the city can go.”
“I believe Frank will bring new ideas and give the ability to the city to take it to a level that maybe we haven’t gotten to yet,” Martin said.
Martin said he believes the city has “laid the groundwork” for the challenges facing Ocean Shores, listing erosion, “livability” and balancing the duties of the fire department.
As he looks forward to 2024, Elduen said he will begin work on some of the priorities he listed in his campaign, including citizen engagement, providing a walk-in healthcare clinic in Ocean Shores, and investigating complaints about the city’s drinking water.
Elduen said the city will host a town hall in January aimed at boosting citizen participation in local government, in which the public will have the opportunity to fill out a survey to list their top three priorities for Ocean Shores, feedback that will then be reviewed by Elduen and the city. He said town halls will likely occur each month and feature a range of topics.
In the aftermath of the election, another change Elduen hopes to bring to Ocean Shores is to mend the divide between political factions of the small beach town. He noted the trend of hostile rhetoric, especially on social media, that plagued the 2023 election season. The divide was evidenced earlier this year when several political candidates, including Elduen, declined to attend a series of political forums hosted by the Ocean Shores Library, and when another candidate abruptly left the Ocean Shores Lion’s Club following accusations of audience misbehavior.
“It was a really ugly election season,” Elduen said. “People were very divisive. I want to try to heal that up and get everybody back together.”
Elduen said he plans to invite members of the public from “both sides of the fence” to join a committee to lead planning efforts for community events intended to encourage cordiality. Elduen referenced the work group that helped build the Ocean Shores skate park this summer, when competing political candidates and other community members worked together to complete the park.
“It was really a good example of what we can all do together,” he said. “I want to see more of that going on.”
Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or firstname.lastname@example.org.