Writer's Note: I realize that because this article is about a specific candidate, I might be stepping on some people's toes. I have tried to include as much documentation as possible to help my case. Please feel free to click through the links and examine the materials. And as always, you can email me directly with your concerns here, and always, you can read my blog on its native site here: The Political Junkie
Tuesday night, I made my way down to the Young Democrats meeting at the beautiful Chuckanut Brewery, where I found Dan Pike answering questions and campaigning. He discussed Red Light Cameras and had some intriguing ideas for the waterfront, but before long, he got around to "Coal Trains."
His boisterous public opposition to the proposed terminal at Cherry Point has been the centerpiece of his mayoral campaign. You'll find reference on his campaign literature ("The first and only elected official and candidate to stand up for Bellingham and say 'No' to coal,") on his Facebook page ("Mayor Dan showed enormous integrity in standing up to protect Bellingham . . . and remains the only candidate who will continue to show that leadership!") and in his speeches (see my write up from the Dems endorsement meeting). This is a hot button issue in our community, drawing large crowds to public meetings and aggressive, sometimes illegal, action.
Pike's track record on the issue has been erratic, or as veteran reporter John Stark put it in his July 29th article, "Pike's journey to his present position has not been direct."
He put forth a resolution supporting the Cherry Point Terminal back in October 2010 saying "Whereas the Mayor of Bellingham, Dan Pike, joins with the council in its strong support of this project." City Council president Gene Knutzen pulled the resolution before it could come to a vote. UPDATE: Dan Pike just called me to contest this issue. It is unclear who proposed the resolution, but Dan Pike says he asked for it to be removed. Read about that conversation here. When that failed, he held a couple of public hearings about it before coming out for the project with some serious conditions, and then finally coming out against the project by sending a rather confrontational letter to the governor without warning, or consulting the County Executive and Council.
Regardless of how Pike got to the issue, what confuses me is why this is even an issue in the mayoral race. The mayor of Bellingham has no jurisdiction. The city will not be approving permits (that's the county council's job,) or conducting environmental impact analysis (state agencies,) or even dealing with traffic and land use concerns (state and Port of Bellingham.) The city has zero authority over this issue, so why is Dan Pike making it a central issue of his campaign?
I've heard Kelli Linville talk about how she is opposed to the project and would prefer a different industry be installed in that space. So if both Pike and his opponent are in virtual agreement (Herald Article confirms this) and the post they seek has no authority over the issue, why all the chest thumping about it?
So at the Young Dems meeting I asked him, "Aside from the bully pulpit, what jurisdiction does the mayor's office have on this issue?" His campaign manager, Isabel Vanderslice, tried to jump in but Dan Pike answered, "Well don't discount the bully pulpit, it is important."
"I'm not," I said. "But what jurisdiction do you have?"
Isabel answered for him at this point, "Bellingham has no jurisdiction." But Mayor Pike continued, "I never claimed to have any jurisdiction over this. In fact, in a way, it is a good thing because I'm not constrained by what I say." He then continued about how the County Council is unable to speak out on this issue because of the appearance of fairness issue (see Jean Melious' discussion of this at her excellent blog Get Whatcom Planning).
But it left me wondering, why are our mayoral candidates spending all this time talking about an issue they cannot change in office? Is it because they know it's a highly recognizable yet safe issue since most voters within in the city are opposed? I suppose it's far easier to campaign by railing against the coal trains than it is to run the risk of articulating a forward thinking vision for our many municipal-based issues. So before the campaign dialogue strays into how the candidates opposed rabid dogs and major earthquakes, I'd like to set forth a few issues I would rather see our mayoral candidates talk about:
1) Revitalizing our Urban Core:
If you are downtown after 7:00 p.m. on a weeknight, you might have noticed the eerie silence that permeates our downtown. We need to have an economic engine that runs 24/7. I got the bad news that yet another friend of mine is having to pack up and leave town because there are no jobs. He's bright, energetic, a real credit to any employer, yet he can't find work in this town because of our anemic economic growth. I would love to hear fully articulated plans, something beyond "Let's speed up the permit office!" Safety also needs to be addressed. I've talked to some Ferndale and Blaine folks who have mentioned they would never walk with their kids down Railroad, even in broad daylight, because they don't feel safe. Everyone should feel able to walk around and shop in our urban core and that needs to be addressed.
2) Infill and Rental Housing
We have a drastic shortage of rental properties here in the City of Bellingham. I discussed this issue recently with Clayton Petree, read that interview for more details, but the short version is, we need more apartments and no one is willing to start building. I would like to hear the candidate's ideas on how to drive down the cost of renting by spurring more apartments to be built. I realize we cannot build our way out of the recession, but right now we have a serious problem. Related to that, how do we inspect and maintain the properties that are available to make sure they are safe for our renters. What is the city's role in all that?
3) Cordata, the Guide-Meridian, and Barkley Village
Right now, we have four economic horses running in opposite directions. We have the established Bellingham and Fairhaven centers, which have a good mix of housing, shops and stores, and green spaces. But we also have the Guide-Meridian, home to some of our larger chain stores and the mall, and the new upstart, Barkley Village. Both of the latter seem to lack planning for housing, walkable areas, or even basic access to transit that doesn't involve crossing five lanes of traffic. How are we going to build sustainable communities if Barkley Village is where we are giving our tax breaks? Finally, Cordata, a community that has rapidly expanded its residential base in the last ten years, but now lacks stores and services. How are we going to better integrate our city, and build sustainable neighborhoods? I would like to hear our candidate's vision on those issues.
We should demand the best from our elected and future elected officials, even if that means pinning their feet down and demanding they talk about the issues they will be able to affect if we elect them. I urge all the voters reading this to ask your candidates about issues relevent to their office, and the candidates reading this to expand on what they can do about those issues.