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Council candidates turn out, how about voters? | Opinion | August 5

Let’s begin this serious business of weighing in on City Council candidates by expressing that this primary election is particularly confusing because there are four candidates for the Central Ward and three wanting to represent everyone on the island (at-large). Selecting one of two is simple enough, but this time voters have to winnow out multiple numbers of these diligent, upstanding citizens just to reach the magical general election number of two. Fortunately, there will be only two choices in November, though the number of races will double to four.

Question is, how do the majority of islanders choose their next councilors, other than tried-and-true methods such as “eeny, meeny, miny, moe,” the Magic 8 Ball or throwing bones? An old pol once opined that while many islanders lean toward having a mind of their own and loving to assert it, when it’s time to vote some will simply skim the voter’s pamphlet, likely talk it over with their spouse, maybe call a friend for another opinion or two, mull it over for a minute and then vote. And if someone else wins, well, that’ll give them something to complain about.

There are, however, positives to having a multitude of candidates. For one, discussions of issues become increasingly important and there is less opponent bashing, though a little contentiousness is often revealing and can be entertaining.

Educated decisions are made, more often than not, when voters know a candidate’s intentions and beliefs. For example, while one could assume that lawyers Hilary Franz and Barry Peters wouldn’t embarrass themselves at City Hall when they were elected unopposed four years ago, what did the average uninformed voter really know about them since they weren’t challenged?

Second, the continued flux of members and interest in the council indicates that there may be constant turnover because of the intense, time-consuming work involved. And, as the city continues to regroup and tackle new problems, it appears there is currently no shortage of islanders who want to become politically involved in this metamorphosis. That’s encouraging because, like it or not, while island life is resistant to change, it appears that current affairs will force our city government to keep only one step ahead of dire financial straits for a while.

Two years ago there were three candidates in each of the three council races, though that was likely due in part to the fact that the 2010 council would be the first under the new council-manager form of government. And this time? While the council has been forced to down-size the city work force and cut back on helping nonprofits in order to establish critical reserve funds, there are still many difficult decisions to be made regarding the future of a city with limited revenue that is suffering perhaps from growing too large too fast. Critical infrastructure projects loom, and while the city expects to get help via state and federal funds, nothing can be taken for granted in that ever-changing environment.

Fortunately, all seven candidates are extremely qualified for political office and also have passion for the island they call home. That’s right, all of them. Hopefully, there were a good number of citizens who took the time and effort to get to know the candidates during the last two months, rather than turning to a Ouija board to decide.

If so, then it should be apparent there’s a sizable division between those who lean toward the previous status quo (certainly Peters and Joe Levan, and perhaps Chris Van Dyk on some issues) and candidates (John Green, Dave Ward, Kim Hendrickson and Steve Bonkowski) who are less satisfied and have campaigned for change in the way the city does things. That includes what size of government islanders can afford. Lines have been drawn during this abbreviated election period, but, as aforementioned, there are often surprises when a person is actually sworn in. So do your homework.

Here’s an educated guess, not an endorsement: The at-large candidates emerging from the primary will be Peters and Hendrickson, while Levan and Ward will sneak out of the Central Ward. Whomever advances, it appears that  “the division” will allow many voters to more easily decide their choices in November.

A darkhorse in the latter race is Green, who has taken the bold stance that the city should share some of its public works responsibilities with Kitsap County and return to having the county Sheriff’s Department be the city’s law enforcement body. He thinks there are still a lot of islanders who disagree with the 1991 decision to incorporate the entire island, though he is not suggesting the city should be unincorporated.

Regardless of who wins, all of the candidates are worthy of your vote, and deserve the same responsible voter turnout that occurred in 2009 regarding the form-of-government measure and ensuing council elections.

(See the Election section on pages B1-4 for candidate profiles.)

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