Send Kordonowy, Tooloee on to mayoral face-off

Four years ago in this space, we asked: What is a mayor?

Our answer at that time: sage of City Hall, and shepherd of the City Council; island emissary to regional boards like Kitsap Transit and the health district; seeker of consensus, and court of last resort; a listener, a leader. The people’s official.

We still think it’s a pretty good definition, as we head into a four-way mayoral primary. Incumbent Darlene Kordonowy seeks a second term in office, attracting challengers in city code enforcement officer Will Peddy, Winslow accountant Michael Berry, and City Councilman Nezam Tooloee. In seeking that combination of sage, shepherd and seeker, the Review endorses Darlene Kordonowy and Nezam Tooloee in the Sept. 20 primary election, an all-mail vote for which ballots should already have arrived at island households.

Even before she took office, Kordonowy boasted far and away the best civic resume on the island, a CV that four years in the mayor’s office have only enhanced. As one of the prime architects of the city’s Comprehensive Plan and a longtime planning commissioner, she has an inordinate understanding of the goals and strategies for accommodating island growth. Her time as volunteer and president of the Helpline House board cemented her community credentials.

In her first 18 months as mayor, Kordonowy weathered public, sometimes embarrassing conflicts with an unusually feral council on issues as substantive as the makeup of the city’s senior staff, and as petty as who should run meetings. The mid-term council election that followed was widely seen as a referendum on those conflicts, and the results suggested that most voters were dissatisfied with the council, not the mayor. Significant City Hall personnel changes sought by the council were nonetheless effected; those changes have proved positive, and we believe islanders are satisfied with the general direction of the city organization.

More recently, Kordonowy’s administration has responded well to the issues of the day, notably the economic challenges facing downtown. In Winslow Tomorrow, her administration devised and launched a watershed, citizen-driven planning effort, the results of which will shape the community for decades. We can find fault with aspects of Kordonowy’s performance – several of her draft budgets have needed considerable pruning by the council, suggesting that she sometimes lets her vision trump fiscal sense – but given the challenges of her early term, she has acquitted herself well on the whole. Kordonowy retains a considerable base of support across the island, and deserves to defend her first term come November.

Nezam Tooloee is a newer, but equally dynamic presence in local affairs. In his 18 months on the council, he has emerged as a strong and candid voice in the policy-making sphere. Detractors have tried to portray Tooloee as “pro-development,” but like the issues themselves, his thinking is more nuanced; his skepticism about ever more-stringent regulation has added balance to the council, and reflects fairly the concerns of a segment of the island too often ignored.

Tooloee was integral in the selection of the new city administrator, arguing forcefully and correctly for contract terms that would shield that position from political interference by the council. And he played a role of his own in the Winslow Tomorrow initiative, advising the mayor as that project was devised. Finally, for those who want to see City Hall run “like a business,” Tooloee’s corporate-world pedigree by itself makes the other challengers in the race moot, if his council experience didn’t already.

To be sure, Kordonowy and Tooloee bring contrasting personal styles. One can make a case that Darlene is better at listening than acting, and that the opposite is true for Nezam. Both

certainly have room to grow as leaders. They are, nonetheless, established voices in the civic arena with identifiable constituencies and demonstrated support.

Darlene Kordonowy and Nezam Tooloee are superior candidates for the city’s highest elected office, and the community would be well served to hear their ideas and visions debated between now and November. They deserve to advance through the mayoral primary. Two fine choices; choose one.

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