Maybe it was just habit, or maybe the voters in Aberdeen’s Ward 5 just didn’t realize that John Erak Jr., their longtime state and local representative had up and died more than four months ago.
And now Erak is poised – well, as poised as any dead man can be – to regain the council seat he’s held for years. Today, he clings to a 12-vote lead, 98 to 86, over the Alan Richrod, who, unlike his opponent, is very much alive.
“It could be, as some have theorized, that people here were trying to honor him one last time,” says Erin Hart, a reporter at the Aberdeen Daily World.
Erak died at the age of 81 on June 28, 2013, a good month after he filed papers to run for re-election. By law, as Hart reports, a deceased candidate’s name remains on the ballot if he dies after the filing date. If Erak prevails when the last batch of ballots are counted Friday, it will be up to the city council to choose who to seat in the position.
Erak, of course, is no ordinary dead man in these parts. For decades he was a beloved teacher at Wishkah Valley High School in Cosmopolis, and would go on to become Grays Harbor County School Superintendent. He served in the state house and mentored a variety of political candidates.
“John’s effervescent personality set the world on fire,” his obituary reads. “He had a passion for performance and was a strong supporter of the Driftwood Players where he once received the ‘Ham Award’ for his acting ability. Many Harborites remember John as a ‘football star’ where he often brought the cheering crowds to their feet.”
After Erak died, the council appointed Richrod to serve out the remainder of his term. One has to wonder how many voters -- or at least those who filled in the bubble beside Erak’s name -- knew that his opponent had taken his place on the Aberdeen City Council.
When contacted by Hart for his reaction to the um, deadheat, Richrod, who develops assessories for musical instruments, said, “I have not paid any attention whatsoever, I’m busy doing things. It’s a democratic process” and “it will do what it does … let’s see what happens.”
As for Erak, the man who loved Elvis Presley and riding the highways and byways of Grays Harbor back in the day on his Triumph motorcycle, it looks like he may yet earn himself one last Ham Award.