The city’s spokesperson, the people’s voice

(Clockwise from upper left) Incumbent Mayor Darlene Kordonowy and challengers Will Peddy, Michael Berry and City Councilman Nezam Tooloee. - Review file photos
(Clockwise from upper left) Incumbent Mayor Darlene Kordonowy and challengers Will Peddy, Michael Berry and City Councilman Nezam Tooloee.
— image credit: Review file photos

Mayor hopefuls bring different visions for the city’s top office.

Ask the mayor, a former mayor and a couple folks hoping to be the next mayor what it means to be mayor, and you’ll get a range of responses.

“The mayor’s office is the nerve center and the place where citizens’ needs are overseen, monitored or cajoled,” said Dwight Sutton, the island’s mayor for four years in the 1990s.

“I see the mayor as the official spokesperson of the city,” said Bainbridge’s present mayor, Darlene Kordonowy.

While speaking for the city, the mayor must balance on a “three-legged stool” of internal city concerns, community desires and regional representation, she added.

One of Kordonowy’s challengers, city code enforcement officer Will Peddy, expresses a business-like, objective view of the office.

“The mayor’s the CEO of City Hall,” he said. “He builds consensus in the community and council. He may voice an opinion, but it’s not a personal opinion. It’s the opinion of the community.”

Councilman Nezam Tooloee, also taking a reach for the mayor’s gavel, admits “a romantic attachment” to the view that the mayor should be a “citizen legislator” who keeps an ear to the street while taking advantage of the “bully pulpit” the position affords.

Whatever a mayor is, all agree the job isn’t easy. It’s an even tougher gig than leading the free world, one former president said.

“When the burdens of the presidency seem unusually heavy,” said Lyndon B. Johnson at the height of the Vietnam War, “I always remind myself it could be worse. I could be a mayor.”

Sutton chuckles at Johnson’s nod of respect to municipal commanders-in-chiefs.

“I understand that,” Sutton said. “As a mayor, you live with the people you serve. That’s less true the more you go up the chain. (Johnson’s) actions were insulated. But the mayor, when he takes an action, he’ll hear about it when he walks 200 yards down to the grocery store.

“A mayor, more than a president, gets hammered more directly.”

It’s this direct connection to constituents that excites Tooloee about the office.

“This assures direct accountability,” he said. “It’s not policy made from poll numbers and focus groups. Sure it makes the job harder, but so what? It’s like instant customer feedback, and that makes any company better.”

But unlike a company head, a mayor can’t type up a memo and watch city staff turn his or her vision into a reality.

“You can’t come into office, snap your fingers and then ‘Bang!’ it happens,” said Sutton. “It’s more like juggling five balls at once. You can’t focus on one feature or you’ll drop all the balls. You’ve got to make sure all concerns are looked after and that your ambitions don’t outstrip reality.”

Kordonowy agreed, adding that many policy decisions take a while before they become actual policy.

“The length of time it takes to implement (policies) was one thing I was surprised about,” she said. “My own priorities sometimes got pushed aside as I tried to implement things other mayors had put in place.”

Having to seek compromise with the City Council also poses challenges, Kordonowy said.

“There’s often a rough-and-tumble relationship with the council,” she said. “There was much more arm-wrestling than I was comfortable with.”

Despite the office’s challenges, the possibility of serving as the mayor of Bainbridge Island is a popular draw, attracting five or more candidates twice since annexation. The mayoral race drew three challengers to incumbent Kordonowy this year.

In Kitsap County, only a Bremerton City Council race drew as many contenders for the Sept. 20 primary. Bremerton’s mayor is running unopposed while Poulsbo has three candidates.

Winning an election is one thing, but a successful candidate will need a range of attributes to be a successful city leader, Sutton said.

“They’ll need self-confidence, but not arrogance, because they’ll need to carry on through difficult times while sorting out complicated issues,” he said. “They’ll need patience, empathy, persistence, a sense of creativity and vision.”

Candidates for mayor say they have no shortage of vision.

Candidate Michael Berry outlined the scope of his candidacy in a written statement shortly before leaving on a month-long trip. His statement focused on cleaning up what he termed the city’s “wasteful” spending habits and increasing financial accountability. Berry, who works as an accountant, would like to implement stricter guidelines on city revenue bonds while employing an internal auditor “to constantly test and analyze the city’s financial system.”

Tooloee’s vision for the city also includes a fair amount of belt tightening. He expects the city reserve fund to run in the red within two years and says it is traveling on an “unsustainable financial course.”

He’d tackle this issue, in part, by tapping about 10 different funding sources and setting aside about 10 percent of recurring revenues to raise about $10 million per year to pay for capital projects.

Despite Sutton’s warnings of focusing too much on a few major issues, Tooloee believes a mayor should “pick three things” to highlight during a four-year term. Turning the state ferry maintenance yard into a mixed-use, public-access point is one major project Tooloee would like to work towards.

“I think it’s reasonable to assume that you can, in fact, achieve a few big things,” he said.

Peddy said it was more the community’s vision, rather than his, that drew him into the race.

“Almost every person I’ve done work for as the code enforcement officer over the last eight years has come to me and said, ‘You should run for mayor,’” he said. “They said, ‘You’re the one who can help us, who can be the voice for our community.’ Doctors, lawyers, developers – you name it. They all asked and begged me to do it.”

Peddy says the community vision he carries includes a mandate to “spend wisely, not foolishly,” cut costs by cutting down on “frivolous lawsuits and overstaffing,” and take a stand for the rights of homeowners.

A second term for Kordonowy means she can balance out the “community leg” of her metaphorical mayoral stool and focus more on lofty goals rather than administrative tasks.

“I sat too much at my desk, and now I want to get out into the community more,” she said. “I was not elected to do the day-to-day management. Now that I have a capable and excellent team in place, I look forward to understanding what the community expects from this organization.”

Whomever the mayor’s gavel is passed to, Sutton is confident he or she will enjoy a variety of “extremely stimulating and educating experiences” along with the trials and tribulations inherent in the role.

“There’s a lot of challenges on the island that the mayor has to face,” he said. “But the real reward of being mayor is that you can look back and say that you did something about it.”

* * * * *

Great debate

Candidates for mayor will discuss city issues at two debates on Sept. 7.

• 8:45 a.m. at the Madison Avenue Retirement Center

• 7 p.m. at City Hall

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