Usual themes carry council debate

If the objective of a political debate is to avoid a gaffe on which the opponent can hammer, then all candidates can claim success from Tuesday night’s effort.

If the objective is to outline specific positions, clearly separate oneself from one’s opponent and give undecided voters a clear basis for making a choice, then it’s not clear that any of the four candidates for contested City Council seats prevailed.

“I’m fired up to keep going for another four years,” said Michael Pollock, who is seeking a second council term, running in the new southwest ward.

“My experience, balance and forward-thinking can help get the City Council back on track,” said opponent Jim Llewellyn, who served a four-year term from the city’s central ward before redistricting put his Battle Point residence into the southwest ward.

Because there was no primary election in that ward, Tuesday’s event was the first and probably only public debate in the race between two well-known political figures, both of whom served on the council from 1999 to 2001.

Rather than emphasizing their differences, though, they stressed their similarities.

Pollock praised the city’s open-space bond and property acquisitions as among the council’s major accomplishments during his tenure; Llewellyn noted that the open-space bond was put on the ballot during his term.

When Pollock cited a Llewellyn statement that the present council over-regulates, and asked him what regulations he considered excessive, Llewellyn avoided specifics, instead citing the pro-environmental measures that he himself had supported.

Llewellyn returned several times to his theme that he can help smooth out relations between the council on the one hand and the mayor and city staff on the other.

“After observing the dysfunction for the past 20 months, I want to bring my experience of having served on an effective council,” Llewellyn said. “While I was on the council, I developed great rapport with the staff and the mayors.”

Pollock acknowledged that relations were strained at the beginning of the terms of Mayor Darlene Kordonowy and three new council members, but called that “yesterday’s news.”

“We did struggle, but that makes you stronger,” he said. “We have developed ways of communicating with the mayor and staff.”

What may be at least a nuanced difference appeared in response to a question about how to make Winslow more pedestrian-friendly.

Pollock called for implementing the Non-motorized Transportation Plan island-wide, although he said the city would have to find money from another source to absorb the estimated $30 million cost. Llewellyn implicitly called for going slower, saying that bike and pedestrian lanes should be included when roads are rebuilt.

At-large council candidates Arnie Kubiak and Nezam Tooloee, who had squared off in September prior to the primary election, repeated many of the same themes Tuesday.

“I have spent 18 years talking to the council on behalf of the Manzanita Neighborhood Association and the Association of Bainbridge Communities, and it’s time to come to the other side of the desk,” said Kubiak.

Tooloee said he would represent a broader segment of the community than Kubiak.

“The council has moved too far in one direction, and is overly responsive to a vocal minority,” he said. “Protecting the environment is important, but it’s not the only interest, and the council needs to represent everyone.”

Tooloee took 57 percent of the vote in September’s all-mail primary election, to 34 percent for Kubiak. The third entrant, Larry Johnson, captured 7 percent. Johnson has since endorsed Kubiak.

Differences between Kubiak and Tooloee emerged largely by nuance. Asked by Tooloee how he would reign in the roughly $1 million per year the city spends on legal costs, Kubiak said that “certain people who want to litigate constantly” should be brought into the process at an early stage. He said that the city had prevailed in the majority of court cases.

When Kubiak asked the same question, Tooloee said the city council was overstepping.

“There has been a proliferation of ordinances,” he said. “The council should run the city, not people’s lives.” Both said they support hiring an in-house city attorney.

In response to questions about traffic, Tooloee said the problems are concentrated in Winslow, and said the community values survey has indicated that sidewalks and bike lanes are amenities that people both want and are willing to pay for.

Kubiak called for higher impact fees. “We need to spread the costs of growth fairly between newcomers and island residents,” he said.

In response to a question about past voting participation, an issue that has been raised by a Kubiak supporter, Tooloee admitted that he did not vote during his first few years on the island.

“I’m not proud of that,” he said, “but the more I paid attention, the more I became concerned, and that is what led me to run for office.”

Tuesday’s debate, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the Chamber of Commerce and the Bainbridge Island Review, also provided opportunities for unopposed candidates for City Council, the school board and the fire district board to speak briefly and answer questions.

Those groups will also sponsor a debate at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 16, in the City Council chambers between supporters and opponents of the Kitsap Transit fast-ferry plan, and among the candidates for one of the seats on the park district board.

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