The results are in. Hard work, enthusiasm, a firm handshake and a broad smile all won Tuesday.
Hours on the side of the road waving signs, miles walked, doors knocked and hands shaken in dozens of neighborhoods paid off for victorious District 1 supervisor candidate Ron Mikulaco.
Very early Wednesday morning the groggy victor pulled the election results up on his computer one last time and liked what he saw. With all 14 precincts in District 1 reporting and 7,538 votes cast, his lead over incumbent Supervisor John Knight was 502 votes, an insurmountable 6.7 percent lead.
Mikulaco, 44, reported being sunburned, exhausted and “a little delirious” after manning his freeway ramp vigil and pressing flesh throughout his El Dorado Hills district until 7 p.m. on election day.
Incumbent District 2 Supervisor Ray Nutting defeated challenger George Turnboo handily, and called to congratulate Mikulaco. District 1 incumbent Knight, a heavy favorite going in, did not.
Knight and his wife Georgi spent the election night at home and though he said he’s disappointed by the loss the supervisor said he was proud of the positive campaign he ran that emphasized his record as a supervisor and his commitment to the community.
“I had great support from the people I met,” Knight said as he relaxed in his living room. He will remain in office until Mikulaco takes over in January 2013.
Former county sheriff candidate Bob Luca advised Mikulaco throughout the campaign and spent the evening at the candidate’s home monitoring results, helping field media calls and initiating a few himself when early balloting showed Mikulaco with a narrow lead.
Luca framed Mikulaco’s victory as the result of brute force. The now-former plumber began campaigning in early February, put his foot to the floor and didn’t let up until the polls closed Tuesday.
Throughout the campaign Mikulaco turned challenges and setbacks into motivational fuel. “My opponent told you he would outwork me,” said Mikulaco. “Not many people have done that.”
Mikulaco recalled a chance meeting with former Supervisor District 1 Supervisor Rusty Dupray early in the campaign. “He told me I didn’t have a chance,” he said. “That stung.”
But the candidate shrugged it off, kept shaking hands and smiling, politely forcing himself on people at every meeting and civic activity he could find.
On Tuesday afternoon he reported his biggest fear: “Losing by 40 votes,” he said. “If it’s close and I lose, I’ll always wonder if I should have worked a little harder.”
With limited campaign resources, Mikulaco relied on shoe leather and signage to get the word out. His five sign designs all featured a consistent “Mik” message that made him a recognizable face in El Dorado Hills. He moved the signs around every couple of days to keep the message fresh.
“Printing is expensive, but standing by the freeway is free,” he said. “So that’s what I did.”
His broad smile became a regular feature of the morning commute for many residents. The freeway entrance regimen is a multi-hour “stand for inspection” that requires complete focus, he said. “You have no idea how hard it is to stand out here for two or three hours.”
During the day he knocked on doors, carefully logging each street in neighborhood he visited. On weekends he knocked on more doors, at least 2,000, likely closer to 2,400, he said.
Many of the residents he met were apathetic and uninformed, he said. “Most people have no idea who their supervisor is. Many don’t even know what the office is, or that they don’t live in a city,” he said. “I want to do something about that.”
At times during his four-month campaign blitzkrieg, Mikulaco himself was accused of bothering people but he dismissed such concerns as the price of getting to know his constituents’ concerns.
During several candidate forums Mikulaco repeatedly raised issues outside the purview of a county supervisor, and stands by a commitment to address the concerns he heard about schools, water and sewer.
“I told people that I would represent their interests,” he said. “These are the things people expect local government to do for them, and I will carry their concerns to the county government.
“People need someone to go to,” he continued. “We have no mayor, city manager or city council here. I want them to have access to me … to hear their concerns.”
Mikulaco said he hopes to open a district office in the Safeway center and staff drop-in hours “so people in the community can come and talk to me. I’ll even pay the rent.”
Bees, dogs and blisters
The campaign took a physical toll on the candidate. Mikulaco incurred six bee stings, one dog bite — he’s still on antibiotics — and a chipped tooth when he stumbled on the sidewalk. He was nearly hospitalized for dehydration, and suffered blistering sunburn.
Stomach problems prevented him from eating well. He’s down 15 pounds since the campaigning started.
The low point came in early May. Disparaging leaflets popped up all over El Dorado Hills, including at the popular Art and Wine Affair, two different schools and numerous local businesses. Knight adamantly denied any involvement, stating unequivocally, “That kind of stuff makes us all look bad.”
Mikulaco took a couple of days off the campaign trail and spent time in his garden. Two days later he was back on the side of the road, using his critics as motivation to work even harder. “Every time someone would yell something at me or flip me off I vowed to stand out there an extra half hour,” he said.
Mikulaco attended frequent board meetings as a candidate, and became a student of protocols and the current supervisors. His favorite? “I have a lot in common with Ray, but Jack (Sweeney) is sort of my role model.”
If he had it to do over again, Mikulaco said he’d try to get at least one mail piece out, emphasizing his positions, explaining, “It’s expensive but it would be a good complement to the canvassing and signs.”
Mikulaco has no gripe about being outspent. “When I signed up there were rules in place and I accepted them,” he said.
He recalls receiving four separate mail pieces endorsing Knight, often with a slate of other candidates. By comparison, he called his campaign “largely a one-man affair.”
He thanked supporters Todd Smith, Tara Louise and Dennis Burns.
As the election drew close, he abandoned the neighborhood canvassing for face-to-face contact, approaching people in gas stations and supermarket parking lots, introducing himself and asking for votes. Along the way he gave away 5,500 fliers, 2,500 in the last three weeks.
He estimated his total expenditures at $6,000, most of which was out-of-pocket. His largest donation was a $1,600 check from a friend in a construction company. His father helped out as well. The handful of other donations were all less than $100.
Mikulaco explained his victory in simple terms, conceding that an anti-incumbent sentiment might have helped. El Dorado Irrigation District outsider Alan Day knocked off incumbent Harry Norris earlier this year.
The candidate credits his own hard work for the victory. “People saw me and knew who I was,” he said. “They never saw my opponent out here. Don’t forget, John had a huge following.”
With six months before he takes office, Mikulaco has plenty of time to prepare for the job, but first things first. “I need some time off,” he said. “I’m worn down, physically drained right now.”
He’ll dig for gold on the Feather River, get in some surfing in Huntington Beach and also hopes to pick up a pit crew position for the summer flat track racing season.
Soon enough, he promised, he’ll start identifying a potential planning commissioner and tackle the transition.
He promised to dig into the issues more deeply. “I’m not going to show up in January unprepared. I have a lot of homework to do.
“I hope they’re receptive to me. I probably don’t fit the Placerville mold, but it is what it is,” Mikulaco said. “I don’t anticipate any problems that I can’t handle, and I’m not a fool. I’m very capable of understanding the issues in detail.”
He also knows he needs to come to terms with local developers. “Clearly they made a choice and their guy didn’t win,” he said. “So we need to start from scratch.
“I told the developers before and I’ll say it again, we’re not as far apart at they may think. We’ve got to sit down and talk. I just need to see the plans. I understand general engineering and can read maps,” he added.
At some point candidate Mikulaco became brand “Mik.” Like him or not, most people knew who he was by election day. “I created a buzz,” he grinned. “A Mikmania.”
Noel Stack contributed to this article.