Moriwaki seeks Kitsap County Commission seat, Rockefeller opts out

Both island residents seen as top-tier candidates to replace North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen

The contest to replace resigning North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen was set awry this week, as one perceived frontrunner declined to seek the seat, another made a commitment to enter the race and a surprise candidate emerged.

Endresen announced her decision to step down in late April, to take a position with the office of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.

State Sen. Phil Rockefeller, a Bainbridge Island Democrat, and Kitsap Treasurer Barbara Stephenson emerged as first-tier candidates.

While Rockefeller decided against pursuing the appointment in order to stay in the Legislature, Stephenson indicated she would actively pursue the position.

Kitsap County spokesman and Bainbridge resident Clarence Moriwaki, who began his current job the week before Endresen’s announcement, will also join the fray.

“I love this county and I like my current job,” Moriwaki said. “But I will be in a better position to change things as a commissioner.”

Rockefeller announced his decision on Thursday, saying that he wanted to “stay where I am. There is still a lot I can do, and there are excellent opportunities for me to serve the public.”

Shortly after Rockefeller’s announcement Stephenson said “I am going to make a run for it. There are a lot of issues facing to the relating to the budget where I have a good understanding.”

Stephenson, 54, was elected to a second term as county treasurer in 2006, at which time she was unopposed. Prior to her election she served as director of the Kitsap County United Way.

Moriwaki, 51, said that several people encouraged him to run after Endresen decided to step down.

Moriwaki said he was flattered at first but then took the opportunity seriously. He said his policy and party experience sets him above the other candidates.

Stephenson’s abilities to manage budget issues and to win a countywide election work in her favor, as the appointed commissioner will presumably run for a full term in 2008. However, some Democratic Party members have questioned her party loyalty.

“I know who I am and what I am,” Stephenson said. “And I believe that I am a good Democrat. Besides, most of the issues the commissioners deal with are nonpartisan.”

Moriwaki claims the strongest party credentials, having worked as a Democratic operative for more than 20 years. During this time he has worked for Gov. Mike Lowry, President Bill Clinton and Rep. Jay Inslee, for whom he represented Kitsap County for four years.

“Partisan loyalties aren’t really important in this job,” Moriwaki said. “Streams and parks are not Democrats or Republicans. But party experience will be very important in getting the nomination.”

Kitsap Planning Commissioner Tom Nevins and Bainbridge resident and anti-stadium activist Chris Van Dyk are also declared candidates. Martha and Mary care center’s director of fund development, Robert Gelder, and Poulsbo City Councilman Ed Stern are also considering the race.

All applicants will be reviewed by the Democratic Executive Committee, which will announce all candidates on June 4.

The candidates will then attempt to win the votes of the approximately 90 precinct officers, who will select three names on June 18.

The remaining county commissioners will select one name from that list, presumably before Endresen’s June 28 departure.

Moriwaki said he will happily continue in his current position if he is not selected for the commission seat.

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