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The next mayor of Bainbridge -- Darlene Kordonowy?

Bainbridge Island Mayor Darlene Kordonowy seeks a second term in office to continue her family tradition of public service. - JULIE BUSCH photo
Bainbridge Island Mayor Darlene Kordonowy seeks a second term in office to continue her family tradition of public service.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

Kordonowy has grown into the job, former colleagues say.

Back when Darlene Kordonowy’s father was mayor of a small North Dakota town, city meetings were often held in the local diner’s biggest booth.

It was here that policy decisions were hashed out over a hand of pinochle and a bottle of Canadian Club whisky.

Occasionally, a local character named John would stumble in during one of his diabetic attacks. But Kordonowy’s dad, Frank, was at the ready, always with a candy bar in his pocket.

And when Frank returned home for dinner, his phone frequently rang with citizens irate over kinks in the town’s newfangled garbage pickup service.

While much has changed in small town politics from her father’s day, Kordonowy said her dad’s values still hold true.

“To him, city government was a place where people came together to share ideas, to help each other, support each other and do the things that needed to get done that you couldn’t do yourself,” she said.

Kordonowy hopes to continue the family tradition for public service with a second term as mayor of Bainbridge.

After crafting a stable foundation over the last four years, Kordonowy believes she can build upon the Winslow Tomorrow project, which she initiated last year, improve financial management, protect green spaces and assist the island’s low-income residents.

“Darlene has demonstrated she can move things forward in a positive manner,” said former Bainbridge mayor Dwight Sutton, who considers both Kordonowy and challenger Nezam Tooloee equally qualified to lead the city. “She’s in-touch with the community’s concerns and has done a good job representing this community in the wider arena.”

Sutton credits Kordonowy with forming productive relationships with regional agencies, such as Kitsap Transit, the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council and Washington State Ferries, that can help improve transportation and other issues on the island.

Kordo–nowy’s ability to communicate and collaborate is a skill borne from diligent work more than born ability, said former councilman Michael Pollock, who was sometimes at odds with Kordonowy early in her term.

“At first, she went into things without regard for the council,” he said. “She had a bit of the ‘well, I’m the mayor’ attitude, sort of a (Seattle Mayor) Greg Nickels syndrome, and tended to take adversarial positions at times.”

Despite a rocky start, Kordonowy has smoothed the road, Pollock believes.

“She’s matured tremendously and really has grown into the job,” he said. “By year two, we’d worked out our differences, and she has carried herself well. She’s done a good job and deserves to be reelected.”

Pollock has been particularly pleased with Kordonowy’s ability to stick to her values while remaining diplomatic – despite a dramatic shift in the council toward more divisive, “partisan-like” conflicts, he said.

“She has good values and she stands by those values strongly,” Pollock said.

The Bainbridge Conservation Voters were impressed enough with Kordonowy’s strong stand on environmental issues to award her their organization’s endorsement.

“She’s done a damn fine job and has an extraordinary record,” said BCV member Bob Smith. “I can’t think of anything she’s ever done that would make me question” her strong support for protecting natural areas.

BCV members cited Kordonowy’s work to preserve Pritchard Park and support for the open space preservation bond levy in their endorsement.

Not only an advocate for a clean environment, Pollock said the mayor worked hard to clean up City Hall.

“There were a lot of feral employees who had their own fiefdoms” in city departments, he said. “There was poor communication and, because there was no unity in the decision-making, we saw a lot of conflicts when people came to the Planning (Department) desk.”

Kordonowy replaced many longtime department heads, which Pollock says streamlined City Hall, making it more financially-sound and responsive to citizens.

“She gets results,” he said.

Still, some who support Kordonowy’s work wish that she’d pushed herself harder for even more payoffs.

“Darlene’s done important process stuff, but she’s been slow to take on some things some folks had hoped for,” Sutton said. “Winslow Tomorrow could have been done yesterday, it could be off and running by now.”

Property rights advocate Gary Tripp, a supporter of challenger Nezam Tooloee, blasts Kordonowy for not doing enough to curb the power of city planners.

“There’s just been no leadership,” he said. “She’s totally failed to provide direct management to staff who have their own agendas (and have formed) little dictatorships in the city administration. This causes lawsuits and ill feelings from people who feel stepped-on and treated unfairly.”

But Kordonowy’s faith in the staff she’s put in place comes from yet another value inherited from her father.

“My father was in World War II, in the Battle of the Bulge,” she said. “He was only one of a few survivors. He wondered why he was able to come back.”

Believing he owed his life to his fellow G.I.s, Kordonowy’s father decided to give thanks by dedicating his life to public service.

“He thought it was a privilege (to be alive) and he wanted to honor the men who died,” she said. “I’ve come to rely on that. I think its important to honor the people you work with and to lead by pulling people together.”

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