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Hopefuls clash in candidate debate

Affordable housing, Winslow Tommorow emerge among several points of difference.

Voters learned a little bit more about their City Council candidates this week.

They learned that all of them are eager to salute the flag, and that each has a different political role model. They were even warned by one candidate, as the campaign season slips into a higher gear, to be wary of shiny rhetoric.

“It’s all glittering generalities,” said South Ward candidate Curt Winston, of opponent Kim Brackett’s campaign. “It’s time to get down to brass tacks.”

Candidates did just that at Tuesday night’s candidate forum, facing a gauntlet of questions – both offbeat and predictable – in a patriotic setting at the American Legion Hall.

The event was the first opportunity for voters to assess candidates since the August primary election narrowed the field for November’s general election to six. Hilary Franz and Barry Peters, who are running unopposed for North Ward and at-large positions, participated despite being assured victory.

Meanwhile, Winston, Brackett, and Central Ward candidates John Waldo and incumbent Bill Knobloch further clarified their platforms.

The evening began with a consensus when all six candidates said they would support the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance before council meetings.

From there, opinions diverged.

Waldo at several points touted the importance of creating affordable housing, defending a proposed amendment to the city’s Comprehensive Plan – which he helped author – that would allow the city to waive several zoning requirements for projects that qualify as affordable.

“This says that as a policy matter affordable housing is so important it can override other things as the City Council sees fit,” Waldo said.

He went on to say that new state legislation may ultimately render the amendment moot.

Knobloch criticized the plan.

“This is an example of my opponent watering down our codes,” he said, calling the amendment a “Trojan Horse.” Knobloch said the island needs more definitive rules about how to regulate land.

In the South Ward race, Brackett stuck with the tack that won her the primary, by stressing environmental issues and fiscal responsibility.

“You don’t mess with taxpayer money,” she said.

Several issues central to an earlier candidate forum received less attention this time around, including the island’s water supply, which currently is being studied by the city to determine its capacity; other issues, like traffic problems along State Route 305, received much greater depth than in past discussions.

Plenty of attention was again paid to strained relations at City Hall.

Franz suggested a new code of conduct for councilors, and the implementation of the recommendations of a recent benchmarking study that identified several weaknesses at the city.

Most stressed the need to clarify the various roles of government.

Some current councilors have suggested the city consider shifting to a council-manager form of government. Most candidates on Tuesday said the current problems at the city are due more to personality conflicts than to the governmental structure.

Waldo supported the coming $20.6 million Winslow Way “streetscape” plan, saying the work was 90 percent infrastructure repairs. Knobloch again disagreed, saying “it’s the bells and whistles that run it up.”

Opinions were mixed about whether to put Winslow Tomorrow funding to a public vote; all agreed that councilors need help from the community in prioritizing the city’s long list of projects.

Winston said it isn’t the role of city government to pass legislation that removes private property rights. As an example, he pointed to the debate over whether to allow more docks on Blakely Harbor, and an ordinance that limits the number of docks that can be built there.

“It’s not reasonable,” he said of the ordinance. “I don’t see how that thing ever got passed.”

Winston, who lives on the shores of Blakely Harbor, has long been vocal on the issue.

Knobloch said that poorly written codes are to blame for many property rights disputes.

Brackett agreed, saying “our code does need some work.”

Waldo said weighing the sometimes competing interests of property owners against those of the community is always a balancing act.

Asked whether being a land use attorney would cause a conflict of interest if he were elected, he responded that the majority of his work wouldn’t interfere with being a councilor. He said he would give up the small portion of his business that might.

Several questions touched on more obscure subjects.

“I always liked (former US Senator )Warren Magnuson,” Brackett said, when asked to name her political role model. Winston chose former New Jersey Sen. Fairleigh Dickinson, for whom he once worked in that state’s Legislature.

Knobloch cited local Democrats Christine Rolfes and Sherry Appleton, while Waldo favored former Montana Senator Mike Mansfield and, locally, former mayor and city councilor Dwight Sutton.

None of the candidates thought Bainbridge should form its own county.

“Can’t we exist as a beautiful place to live without acquiring a reputation for being the only place to live?” Peters said.

About 90 people attended the event, which was moderated by island resident and Kitsap News Group reporter Charlie Bermant.

Questions were directed at both individual candidates and the panel at large.

Some were generated by organizers of the event; the rest came via email or in writing from those in attendance.

Later forums could involve more direct debates between candidates.

After his comments about Brackett, Winston offered his own generality to end Tuesday’s event.

“I’m for all the good stuff,” he joked, “and against all the bad.”

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On TV

Bainbridge Island Television will air the candidate forum today at 6 p.m., and again on Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. In other campaign news, City Councilors will revisit the city’s political sign ordinance at the Sept. 26 meeting. At issue is the placement of political signs in public right of ways. The council was to discuss the matter at last Wednesday’s meeting, but it was bumped from the agenda due to time constraints.

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