Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Last Night's Forum:Mayoral Candidates Opening Statements

Last night’s Candidate Forum at the County Council Chambers was a good one as Forums go. The format was appropriate, and offered candidates some choice in whether to speak only to their platforms or allow some audience questions. It also offered candidates some opportunity to both question their opponents and answer their opponent’s questions. I thought the format worked pretty well, because some unpredictability was introduced and it was hard for candidates to just gloss over some topics or simply run out the clock without addressing most issues in some limited way.

Our community owes its thanks for the League of Women Voters, KGMI Radio 790 and the Whatcom Independent for organizing and sponsoring this forum! It is in everyone’s best interest to be as informed as possible on issues, the candidates themselves, and where they stand on the issues.

Wow! I took a lot of notes but now need to figure out how to summarize 3 hours into the salient points I took away from this exercise. First, I’ll state up front that I do favor some candidates over others, but this synopsis will be as objective as possible in capturing my candid reactions while they are fresh in my mind.

So here goes my take on the Mayoral Candidates and their opening statements only: [Comments on responses to questions and closing statements may come later, time permitting]
Questions were asked in the same order from audience right to left. In future, it might be fairer to vary the order so that the same candidates did not always get the benefit of hearing everyone else’s statements.

Dan McShane: Took almost entire opening statement talking, about his accomplishments on the County Council and disparaging the City on subjects mostly centered on growth policy and Lake Whatcom. To hear Dan tell it, the City has done nothing right, and is mainly responsible for promoting sprawl and letting Lake Whatcom deteriorate. He also did have some proposals concerning establishing ‘new departments’ for neighborhoods and for Lake Whatcom, and changing some undefined City-wide ‘priorities, staff and budgets’. Very vague about details and how he was going to win Council support. One got the impression that Dan gets a lot of credit, but no blame. But, he was smooth and polished.

Doug Karlberg: Also spoke the entire time, with one notable positive about the City being about kids. He is against gentrification, because it reduces affordability. Wants to avoid what Sausalito, CA turned into, and prefers Skagit County as a model because it encourages economic development and discourages expensive condos. Feels trust in government is broken and wants greater citizen involvement, better goals & objectives. Came off mostly negative.

Seth Fleetwood: Seth performed the best I’ve ever seen him, but also spoke the entire time without reading notes. He came off as confident in his understandings, clear and succinct about identifying some main problems, and natural and engaged in his delivery. His theme was to protect what we have, citing growth as the number one problem facing the City now, among many other issues. Being a native son seemed to give him a slightly different history and perspective. Cited some positive actions, like the Growth Forum, he has initiated to help address growth and Lake Whatcom and allow our community to grow well. Some growth will need to happen but we get to decide how it happens. Believes in sustainability, preserving strong neighborhoods, and a positive community vision supported by leadership to make it happen. Came off as positive, collaborative and reasonable.

Don Keenan: Don read a thoughtful and fairly comprehensive prepared statement that seemed very natural, yet filled with some pretty focused information. His delivery seemed calm, sincere and measured to fit in as much as he could. His theme was to address needs first, then wants, while maintaining popular services like the Library, Greenways, and continuing downtown revitalization. He knows a lot about these things from his 7 years as Deputy Administrator. Lake Whatcom was a special focus with funding, collaboration, incentives, preservation, further density reduction, changing habits and enforcement as main elements. Open government, making planning & permitting more efficient, neighborhoods, compact urban growth and economic development were all important themes in his message. He believes that Waterfront Redevelopment is a great opportunity that must be pursued with careful attention to fiscal feasibility. It was a positive, ambitious message delivered with enthusiasm.

Dan Pike: Dan was the only candidate to allow time to answer questions from the audience, but only after he had made an opening statement. First, he slightly attacked Keenan’s comment about the current low employment situation still being insufficient to provide affordable homes for residents. Then he cited Lake Whatcom, Waterfront Redevelopment, Neighborhoods and Downtown revitalization as keys issues. He then took two questions, both from current County Planning Commissioners:
1) Dave Pros [Lake Samish] asked if the TDR program was viable, and whether urban villages could happen and accommodate infill. Pike answered that both concepts were flawed; that both needed receiving areas to make them work. Concepts are OK, but first City needs to fix its Zoning Codes to get predictability for City, citizens and developers. Design-based zoning was suggested.
2) 2) John Lesow [Point Roberts] asked how the City should go about alleviating its transportation Level of Service problem. Pike answered transportation is about a system, not just cars. Time then ran out.

Gil Bernal: Gil got a laugh when he asked if the audience needed a stretch. He cited FDR as saying be sincere, be short, and be seated. He cited family facts, military experience, his experience as firefighter, EMT and police officer. He stands for many good ideas and is now having a learning experience. Cautioned against spending what we don’t have, citing growing up in a mining town with cyclical economy. Believes clean water is imperative. Wants more excitement about these elections and a big turnout. Feels the waterfront redevelopment is an amazing opportunity, but cautious about cost impacts to City. Supports ‘less management’. Likes getting out to citizens, with slogan ‘what can I do for you?’ Buoyant personality, with little expectation for election, but enjoying it anyway!

Bob Ryan: Bob seemed at ease, succinct as usual, knowledgeable and comfortable with the issues, as he should be with his almost 12 years of service on the City Council, and in other local and regional capacities. His opening remark said much in few words; ‘We must have been doing something right with all the top 10 lists we’re on, but there’s always room for improvement’. Or something like that. He said our biggest issue is growth – in all its facets. Cited the need for greater density in the City and UGA and its relationship to property values. Now, the economic incentives are to promote sprawl, not prevent it, partly because there are enough 5-acre lots vested in the unincorporated County to take all the projected growth for the next 20 years! Cited the need for better mechanisms to achieve the results we claim to want. GMA is good, but making it work is not a short and easy job, but a long and hard one. Four main points: 1) The location of population centers needs long-range planning; does our vision fit this? 2) Millions have been spent on protecting Lake Whatcom, but it’s not working yet. TDRs, acquisition OK, but stormwater is biggest problem and needs addressing. 3) Neighborhood character needs to be sustained and plans updated. 4) Emergency management needs an integrated, countywide system that also enables cities to do what they need to do. Ryan has taken incident management training and is certified in EM in Washington State. He was the only candidate to emphasize the importance of Emergency Management in today’s reality.