Fine choices in primary
June 9, 2008 · Updated 4:00 PM
"Mail-only primary ballots, which should appear in Bainbridge mailboxes this week, are abbreviated affairs, as only two city council races and the open seat on the fire commission attracted enough contenders to require a primary election.In central ward council position 4, neighborhood activist Bill Knobloch, builder Bill Nelson and young barista Houston Wade are vying for the central ward seat being vacated by Merrill Robison. The Review endorses Knobloch and Nelson in the primary.They, we believe, will offer the voters clear-cut choice come November. Nelson, a member of the island's business community, generally sees development as responding to market forces, forces that can perhaps be channeled but not stopped. Knobloch takes more of a pro-environmental stance, and voices concern about local growth. We foresee a lively and healthy race.Wade is an intelligent and engaging 20-year-old, and we admire his gumption in filing for office. But we don't see the city council as a part-time job for someone working their way through school. In central ward council position 5, economist Richard Berndt and another neighborhood activist, Deborah Vann, are challenging incumbent Jim Llewellyn. The Review endorses Llewellyn and Vann.Again, it's a matter of offering voters clear alternatives. Vann is more environmentally oriented than Llewellyn - indeed, she chose to run for this seat, rather than an open position, to cast Llewellyn's views in clear relief for voters.Yet with the retirement this year of three older hands - Robison, Liz Murray and Mayor Dwight Sutton - we think continuity and institutional memory are particularly important. Voters should have the choice of sticking with Llewellyn and his experience come November.Berndt is a bright newcomer to the Bainbridge political scene, and we hope he puts his talents to good use - he would make an attractive candidate for one of the many upcoming vacancies on the planning commission. But his positions on the issues are close to those of Llewellyn, making Vann a more interesting challenger.The most difficult race is the crowded field for the fire commission seat being vacated by Alan Corner. While all four candidates are worthy, the Review believes two stand out - Scott Gray and Ralph Spillinger.The fire service is Gray's livelihood and life. At age 30, he is a lieutenant in the Seattle Fire Department, where he commands an engine unit. On his days off, he volunteers with the Bainbridge department. Gray has an impressive knowledge of the island department and fire service in general, and offers far more specific ideas than do the other candidates.While we have some concern about the potential conflicts that could arise if Gray were taking orders as a firefighter from the same people he would be overseeing as commissioner, we think that's an issue to be explored during the campaign. Gray has too many assets to be dismissed during the primary.Spillinger brings a generally useful background as a facilities engineer and specific knowledge about local fire operations, gained as a citizen representative on the department's personnel-selection committee. The fact that he rose to a high-level position with NASA before retiring speaks well for his competence.We have no misgivings about either of the other two candidates, former volunteer Jim Johnson or Seattle attorney Brian Lawler; either would probably serve the district well, with enthusiasm and dedication. But neither offers the degree of expertise so apparent in Gray and Spillinger. "