Traveling in time with Byng Hunt | Recalls the volatile 1994 Town Council race
At the latest Town Council Candidates Forum this past week, Byng Hunt sat alone, time traveling over the past 20 years.
He, like many other longtime residents, is deeply engaged in the upcoming June 3 election.
“We have good candidates running now, in my estimation,” he said. “It’s just a matter of differences and the way they do business, their character and their personalities.
“But they’re good people, and I think we can look forward to a totally exciting future.”
Hunt, 73, for the first time since 1989 is not a player in the showdown that has eight candidates running for three open seats on the council, and five more running for the Board of Supervisors.
He was an organizer of the Mammoth Leadership Forum, which sought to find and persuade candidates to run for office, but his own time in the public spotlight is growing dimmer by the day.
Hunt, who will step down as a member of the Mono County Board of Supervisors after four terms in Bridgeport and six years on the Town Council, is a mere voter this time around, with one big difference.
He has seen it all.
As six of the eight candidates for the three open Town Council seats gave their pitches at a Lions Club-sponsored forum at Cerro Coso Community College on Tuesday evening, May 6, Hunt said he could not help comparing it to the elections of 1994.
In that election, eight candidates also ran for three open seats on the Town Council, in a roiling political battle that went a long way toward determining what Mammoth is today.
“The early 90s was a hard time for Mammoth,” he said. “It was a very depressed economic time, the Mountain was having trouble, and we were looking for a change—bringing in new development and new opportunities to grow our general fund.”
Thus in ’94 the candidates lined up: Lynn Hess, Kathy Cage, Mark Shelton, Hank Simpson, Ray Scalise, John Eastman, and Pat Eckart joined Hunt in the race.
Hunt amassed 833 votes to come in first. Next was Eastman, with 766 votes, and in third was Cage, who won 556 votes—just 83 votes ahead of Hess.
The stakes were enormous, Hunt said.
“There was a lot of interest in redevelopment, the airport contract was up for debate, and we were looking to do something with the airport that would be beneficial.
“Intrawest came in 1995, so a lot of things evolved from that election. It was really exciting, and I hope we see that again, this time around.”
If the most recent candidates forum was a barometer of things to come, Mammoth will not have to wait long before policies emerge dealing with issues such as single-family home rentals, the Mammoth Lakes Recreation proposal, the solid waste conundrum, public safety, economic development, and so on.
On Tuesday, two main candidates did not attend because of previous commitments.
Neither restaurateur and businessman Shields Richardson, nor businessman Colin Fernie, attended. That left the forum with John Wentworth, Cleland Hoff, Elena Blomgren, Ken Murray, Karen Sibert, and Deb Pierrel.
As it was, the forum exposed the audience to some of the main points of each of the candidates’ campaigns, from Hoff’s amusing sing-along, using the town’s many acronyms as lyrics, to more studious answers from the others.
For Hunt, it was all music.
“It’s exciting,” he said afterward. “My goal this year was to get many different people out there to stir up interest, and we did that. People are really stepping up.
“We have a choice now among viewpoints. Single-family residences and rentals is a good example. There are definite no’s, definite yes’s, there are some maybe’s.
“We have the choice, and it will be interesting to see how the community reacts to that and how it votes.”