A narrowing of two races

Often unable to reach consensus, beholden to small constituencies when broader concerns are at stake, mistrusting of professional staff, mired in endless process – these haven’t been the most productive years for the City Council.

In this context, the upcoming council elections – three of four races are contested, with two appearing on the Aug. 21 primary ballot – are as much about functionality as issues. Island voters may well be less concerned with what the next council does than that it does. To whom should the field be narrowed for November?

The Central Ward contest has been something of a two-horse race since filing week. Two-term incumbent Bill Knobloch has a clear record on which to stand, and has retooled himself a bit in his second term. Hammer and tongs with the mayor’s office in his first stint, Knobloch has emerged as perhaps the council’s most vocal separationist of powers between legislative and executive, often chiding his colleagues for sticking their collective nose under the mayor’s tent. He’s long been effective in city budgeting, and has identified nuts-and-bolts issues like a new public safety building as the focus of another term if re-elected. As a popular incumbent, he clearly deserves to defend the seat in November.

His most visible challenger, John Waldo, has parlayed an interest in political affairs honed during his days as a reporter for this newspaper into active participation in local government. A leader in the Winslow Tomorrow planning initiative and well schooled in land use issues and law, he can speak on city affairs with more expertise than probably anyone outside City Hall, and is a demonstrated team player. He could step onto the council with no learning curve whatever, and would make the best opponent for Knobloch come fall.

Others in this race are community activist CarolAnn Barrows and political newcomer Lauren Sato Ellis. Both are engaging and informed, and hit many right notes on issues important to the community. Barrows has focused on reversing growth planning allocations for Winslow, as if marketing – as opposed to the market itself, and underlying zoning – has driven development. It’s a marginal issue that would have little traction if she were elected. A young stay-at-home mom, Sato Ellis is interested in an array of family issues – like libraries and parks – that aren’t really in the council’s purview. It is quite heartening, though, to see a 23-year-old want to put down roots here and get active in civic affairs; we hope she lands on a non-profit board or city commission where she would certainly thrive. She and Barrows both have plenty to offer, and we hope they continue to do so.

In the South Ward council race, Curt Winston might be considered a “pothole candidate,” a career traffic safety planner at the federal and state levels now focusing on providing basic city services. The 24-year island resident brings a pragmatic perspective; anyone wary of the grander elements of the Winslow Tomorrow inititiative might give him an ear, as he favors putting any downtown projects beyond utility upgrades up to an island-wide vote for funding. As to keeping the council on track, Winston has nine years of school board service in another community, and wants to see the council mind its own affairs rather than the mayor’s.

Also in this race, environmental activist Kim Brackett has considerable cachet with local greens. With a background in environmental law and planning in public and private spheres including Sound Transit and a major railroad, she advocates tapping local expertise to ensure that programs and proposals pass environmental muster. Water resource management is among her specific concerns; she is also wary of the potential costs of downtown Winslow enhancements, and would like to bring in more grant funding for city projects generally.

The third candidate in this race, inveterate public meeting attendee Robert Dashiell articulates well-thought-out views on topical issues ranging from growth to affordable housing to the quality of local newspapers. In an age when most political hopefuls couch their answers so as to not offend, Dashiell is candid to a fault. The flipside is that his views on some issues, notably the Japanese American internment memorial, fall outside the island mainstream and may well have rendered his own candidacy moot.

Voters would be best served by November general election contests between Bill Knobloch and John Waldo in the Central Ward, and Curt Winston and Kim Brackett in the South Ward. They’ll surely differ on specific issues as the campaign proceeds, as they should; likewise, voters should press them on restoring functionality to a council too often riven by personalities and discord.

Return your primary ballots by Aug. 21, and then look forward to an autumn of spirited discourse toward a council with a new – and shared – sense of purpose in 2008.