Incumbent Bainbridge Island Fire Department Commissioner YongSuk Cho has handily earned another term in the Position 2 spot, according to the preliminary results of Tuesday’s election.
He claimed 2,511 votes (62.2 percent), while challenger Robert S. Peterson received 1,520 (37.7 percent).
Cho, who could not immediately be reached for comment, has a nearly 30-year-long history with the island fire department, including 22 years as a volunteer firefighter/EMT and six years as commissioner. He has been a career firefighter/EMT in Seattle for 20 years and spent eight years as a member of FEMA Disaster Medical Assistance Team, as well as seven years as a volunteer EMT for Bainbridge Island Ambulance (now defunct).
In the wake of his election, fellow commissioners turned down Cho’s request to continue serving as a volunteer with the island department. Cho had hoped to continue acting as a volunteer while also serving as a commissioner. State law, however, requires an unanimous vote from commissioners to allow an elected official to serve in both roles, and a previous board decision established the current policy of not allowing commissioners to serve as volunteers on Bainbridge.
After decades of participation in the fire department and larger community on Bainbridge, following a move here from South Korea when he was 17, Cho said his primary goal in retaining the position is to increase the department’s volunteer force.
Peterson, who has lived on the island for a little more than two years, boasts more than three decades of fire service experience, as well as having served as an elected commissioner for the Northshore Utility District for 11 years. All told, he has nearly 40 years of community service under his belt, including nine years as a fire chief, 13 years as a deputy chief and three years as a battalion chief.
He is also a member of the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club of Bainbridge Island.
Last year, Peterson was one of five islanders to step forward and volunteer to serve in the soon-to-be-vacated seat on the board of commissioners after Bruce Alward announced his resignation.
The board, including Peterson’s current opponent, ultimately chose Gina Batali for the Position 3 spot.
“[I’m] disappointed, I wanted to be able to participate in [the fire board], but I’m not horribly disappointed,” Peterson said Tuesday night. “I didn’t have a campaign trail. I just threw my hat in the ring basically, again. Made a few signs, went to a few interviews and it was all good, interesting.”
He credited Cho’s longtime history with the department and his own status as a relative newcomer to Bainbridge as being the most likely reasons for his defeat.
“I think that Mr. Cho … he was the people’s choice, as they say, and I wish him well,” Peterson said. “He’s the home boy and he’s got six years of experience there, doesn’t surprise me a bit. I told my wife, I said, ‘You know, what are you going to do?’”
The loss, Peterson insisted, marked his final foray into island politics.
“That was my one shot,” he said. “I’m not going to run for anything else on the island. I will always be a new boy and that’s the way it is.
“I’m in Rotary, I’ll be able to serve like that,” Peterson added. “And that’s probably a better place for me anyway at this point, so you aren’t competing against somebody for something like that.”