Decision 2013: Hot City Races, Touching Your Life Every Day
by Paul Pickett
By the time you read this you have likely gotten your ballots in the mail, or will in a day or two. And even though the high profile races like President and Governor aren’t on the ballot, there are races that may affect you more closely.
Elected seats are in play in Lacey, Olympia, and Tumwater that will set the policy direction of those cities for years to come. And if you live in one of those cities, the decisions of the City Council can touch your life every day. So read on, dear reader, and see what the candidates in key races offer.
Olympia City Council, Position 5:
Julie Hankins v Mike Volz
Julie Hankins is an incumbent who is running for the office for the first time. She was appointed to the seat vacated by Stephen Buxbaum when he was elected Mayor. She came to the position with credentials of almost 20 years of working with neighborhood associations. She is being challenged by Mike Volz, the owner of a downtown auto restoration business.
Hankins is a believer in neighborhoods. Talking to her, she clearly analyzes City issues based on her experience organizing both her neighborhood and the citywide Coalition of Neighborhood Associations. More than that, she is enthusiastic and passionate about neighborhoods.
“Everyone is a neighbor,” she says. “Every neighborhood is unique, but shares basic needs.” She’s enjoyed her last two years on the Council and feels she has an aptitude for the work. “I like to bring people together, explain what we do, and empower people,” she explains. “I want citizens to connect their needs to City services.”
Volz did not reply to my request for an interview. From my search of the web I found that he was recruited by Karen Rogers, who decided not to run earlier this year. Rogers, if you recall, was defeated in races for County Commissioner and Olympia Mayor, and although the self-described Democrat was criticized for her connections to the conservative group S.T.O.P. Thurston.
Volz’s main focus is opposition to the “low barrier shelter”. This proposal would create a homeless shelter open to a broader spectrum of people. (The impetus for this comes from a combination of volunteer burnout for informal low barrier shelter, and the fact that many existing shelters have barriers to participation. These barriers can include financial requirements, religious affiliation, and prohibition of single men. A proposal for a low barrier shelter in the Eastside neighborhood encountered strong opposition and has now been withdrawn.)
Hankins addresses the low barrier shelter controversy by calling for education of the public and a more inclusive discussion. “People say the downtown problem is ‘homeless’,” she says, “but that’s too big to find solutions. We need to correctly name the issues, such as mental health or alcohol and drugs. We need a sustainable solution that gets the community behind it.”
Hankin points to her experience as her main difference with her opponent. “I’ve been working with neighborhoods and working with City departments. I like to step back and see how the pieces fit, and try to avoid unintended consequences. We need to focus on getting people’s needs met.”
And what are those needs? “We need a financially stable budget,” she responds. “We need neighborhood plans and downtown plan. We need people to get information on what’s going on.”
Following the money: Hankins and Volz have each raised over $10,000 for their races. Hankins main contributors have been unions, while Volz has gotten large contributions from people with business and finance connections.
Hankin’s final words: “Stay involved and vote! Have your voice heard – we all hold a piece to the solution and we need to bring them together. Let’s not be afraid to try things and see how they work.”
Olympia City Council Position 4:
Cheryl Selby v Darren Mills
Cheryl Selby and Darren Mills are both downtown business owners running for a City Council seat with no incumbent in the race. Both speak to their long-time involvement in city issues and involvement with downtown organizations. Both have the support of Democrats. But after talking with them and reviewing their positions, there are some distinct differences.
Regarding the low barrier shelter, Selby says, “I don’t support a shelter downtown, in a neighborhood, or near a school. There are other places it could go.” She talks about creating a one-stop center for services that might be in a satellite location, such as Martin Way.
Mills wants the low barrier shelter to be downtown. “I support the concept but not the eastside location,” he says. “There needs to be an education process. But the need is downtown so the shelter needs to be there too.”
Selby talked a lot to me about downtown safety. “We have drug issues, more crime, vagrancy, discarded needles. The needle exchange program reported 900,000 needles exchanged downtown.” Selby wants to find revenues to support an increased police presence as soon as possible.
Mills also recognizes the issue of downtown safety and cleanliness. “It’s perception,” he notes. “People feel unsafe seeing the people on the street. But homeless people are very diverse. Some are travelers and don’t know the local rules. Some come from abusive homes or have addictions.” He notes that the increased downtown foot patrol has helped, but wants to see a multi-faceted approach to addressing the diverse needs of people on the street downtown.
Regarding economic development, Mills would like to see more focus on locally owned businesses. “Downtown has a lot of businesses and is a gathering place,” he explains. “Corporate stores are big employers and we can’t write that off. But let’s look at high density housing close to the downtown, and better transit service on the Westside.”
Selby sees safety as the main barrier to downtown development. But she also notes, “I’d like to pursue partnerships with the EDC and Thurston Chamber to promote business more. Maybe the local colleges could establish a downtown presence with a bookstore or student gallery. We can leverage arts and culture to create an attractive destination. We need smart development with an eye on the future.”
What differences do the two candidates see with each other? Selby points to her experience as a business owner, city employee, and working in nonprofit organizations. Mills points to their difference on issues such as the low barrier shelter and retail on the Isthmus. “I’m trying to focus on issues,” says Mills, “while my opponent is not taking positions.”
Following the money: This race has the highest spending in City races. So far, Mills has raised about $17,000 and Selby $25,000. Mills has raised most of his money from unions and local businesses. Selby has also tapped unions and local business, but also has the support or realtors, developers, and women’s political groups.
After speaking with both candidates, I find their similarities interesting (both local business owners), but their personal styles are quite different. Selby was very energetic, but sometimes she let her energy run away with her. Mills was quieter but very thoughtful. In comparing the content of the conversations, it seemed to me that Selby had some good ideas but overall was more vague in her proposals, while Mills seemed to have a deep and nuanced understanding of the City’s issues.
Also in Olympia, Jim Cooper is running for re-election in Position 7, against frequent candidate Prophet Atlantis, who isn’t publicly campaigning.
Tumwater City Council, Position 6:
Debbie Sullivan v Kyle Taylor Lucas
In Tumwater, the hot race is between Debbie Sullivan and Kyle Taylor Lucas. Lucas was appointed to the position earlier this year and is now running to stay in the job. Debbie Sullivan is a long-time member of the city Planning Commission. Both cite their experience in government and nonprofit groups and both are supported by the county Democrats. Beyond that, the similarities end.
Sullivan is strongly focused on economic development. She talked about how half the daytime population of Tumwater work in the city and leave at 5 o’clock, and she’d like to encourage them to spend more money in the city. “We need more housing options like ‘cottage zoning,’” she says, “and we need more shopping and jobs.”
She expressed concern about the big-box store moratorium. “It didn’t stop Wal-Mart, but it stopped some other proposals. Instead of knee-jerk reactions we need a vision of what we want. We should look at leading edge ideas like solar manufacturing.” But Sullivan doesn’t want government to pick winners and losers. “We should do the things that made our country strong.”
Lucas is a big picture thinker. In our conversation she talked about sustainability, social justice, a green economy and many other issues. Regarding economic development she notes “I support a clean, green economy with livable wage jobs. Big warehouses shouldn’t be next to residential areas, especially considering recent studies of diesel fumes and increased asthma rates. There are other places for warehouses.”
Sullivan points to her ten years of experience with the Planning Commission as her strongest credentials. “I can bring a balance of understanding to the Council.” Lucas talks about her upbringing and her understanding of the needs of the disadvantaged. “I had dire poverty in my background. Being a person of color – Indian – gives me a unique perspective. It’s given me empathy, compassion, and a set of values.”
I asked about some specific issues in Tumwater. Regarding the plastic bag ban, Sullivan says, “I would support it if other communities do. But if only one city does this, it puts them at a disadvantage.”
Lucas strongly supports the ban. “There’s no question. It was good we were out in front – it’s the right thing to do. Solid waste costs get passed to utility payers, and there’s no recycling [of plastic grocery bags] anymore. It pollutes Puget Sound and kills wildlife.”
Lucas comments on the Deschutes River corridor: “I strongly support estuary restoration. I have a lifelong commitment to being an environmental steward. We need to preserve natural features and pursue development that’s complementary. We can build a town center that restores a sense of historic character.”
Sullivan dismisses estuary restoration: “We have no effect on the lake. It’s outside the City.” (Actually, part of Capitol Lake’s south basin falls within city limits.) But she sees benefits in other projects. “The Old Brewhouse redevelopment is a good example,” she notes. “The proposed fish hatchery at Pioneer Park could be an educational center and a tourist attraction.”
What are the differences each candidate sees? Sullivan points to her experience on the Planning Commission and with community services. Lucas points to her commitment to low income housing and addressing other problems related to poverty. “We need to build personal and community resiliency,” Lucas explains. “I’m a good problem-solver. I can help us to find common ground on intractable issues.”
Following the money: Lucas has raised around $7,100 compared to $3,500 for Sullivan. Both have support from unions, but Sullivan also has the backing of realtor and developer groups, while Lucas gets support from Tribes and environmental groups.
Some last words: “I’m a dyed-in-the-wool policy wonk,” says Lucas. “I’m excited about the two planning processes addressing Brewery revitalization and the Capital Boulevard corridor.”
Says Sullivan, “I want to bring a holistic vision to the city, and meet goals of being vibrant and self-sustaining.”
Also in Tumwater, Ed Hildreth is running for re-election in Position 5 against Priscilla Blais. Neither is actively campaigning.
And then there’s Lacey…
There are three races for Lacey City Council, and each has an interesting story.
Mayor Virgil Clarkson is being challenged by Walker Morton. This is the first time Clarkson has been challenged in 14 years. Morton has raised $9,000, mostly from unions. But his presence in the election so far does not appear to be strong. The PDC says that Clarkson has raised over $6,000, but no records have been posted on the donors. Clarkson may prevail using the momentum of his incumbency, but a surprise is always possible.
Incumbent Ron Lawson is facing a strong challenge from Michael Steadman. Lawson, although a self-declared Democrat, has been the object of criticism for voting with the more conservative members of the Council. Some observers believe that Lawson has lost his support from the left while not earning support from the right. His fundraising (currently at about $4,600) has been focused on small donors rather than the usual interest groups. Meanwhile Steadman, also supported by the Democrats, appears to have a broad campaign support from both unions and the realtor/developer community, to the tune of about $9,000 total. It will be interesting to see if Lawson’s maverick approach will stand up to Steadman’s concerted challenge.
Incumbent Cynthia Pratt is being challenged by Raymond Payne, who was defeated in the primary two years ago by Jeff Gadman. The differences between these two candidates are stark. Pratt has had a long career in natural resource agencies and is active in the Democratic Party. She’s raised over $10,000 from unions, environmental groups, and women’s political groups. Payne is firmly in the Republican camp and has raised about $4,200 from realtor and developer groups. Pratt seems on solid ground for reelection, but Lacey is a funny place politically, so Payne can’t be counted out. ◙
General election ballots will be mailed on October 16, and must be postmarked or dropped in a ballot box by November 6. For more election information, visit www.thurstonvotes.org.