This morning, Gene Knutson sent out an announcement to local news media saying he has decided not to run for mayor of Bellingham in 2019. Most local political junkies assumed Gene had an excellent chance of getting elected. But the potential candidates for the office are increasing by the week, decreasing the possibility that Gene, a moderate politician, would have a solid constituency.
Today, he put that behind him, stating he intended to stay on the City Council. After his statement below, I review who are the likely candidates for mayor in 2019. We are up to six fairly sure candidates.
“After spending this year looking at running for Mayor I have decided the best place for me is on the council. I will continue my moderating voice and use my experience to help Bellingham continue to be the greatest city in the world. I also understand that the torch is being passed to a younger generation as it was passed to all of us many years ago. I see that as a great encouraging sign. I am going to let the citizens of Bellingham choose a Mayor without me endorsing anybody. There will be many great candidates out there I wish them all good luck.
After a year of thinking of it I have to thank my wife Jan and the family on taking that journey with me. It has been humbling to think that a lot of people wanted to see me as Mayor. Now at 63 my thinking of becoming Mayor is gone but the love I have for Bellingham is forever and I will continue to do my job on the council. Whoever the citizens send to the Mayor’s office they will have no bigger supporter than me. I have served with 5 Mayors and I look forward to working with the peoples choice. After 63 years I still believe in a place called Bellingham.”
Gene was elected to the council in 1993 and has represented the 2nd Ward since then. He was reelected last fall and his present term runs three more years, through 2021.
There are now, by my count, six solid candidates with one or two others considering it. But before naming them, I need to give my standard disclaimer. I have talked to some of these candidates but will not identify which ones. I have not asked some whether or not they will run because they are not allowed to tell me the truth, courtesy of a Washington state law. If a person tells me they are thinking of running then that starts the clock ticking on when they must file their intent to file and the paperwork begins. So I work around them, asking others what they know.
We have long known that Michael Lilliquist and Seth Fleetwood plan to run. Gene was the more moderate candidate but now Garrett O’Brien of the Planning Commission is thinking of running and he would get the BIAW and realtor endorsements, taking away much of Gene’s conservative support. In the last week, we hear from multiple people that Mike Hammes, owner of RAM Construction, is looking to run. Mike is a guy who has given generously to our community with his company helping on many local projects. He is well known and well liked by many on all sides of the issues.
Pinky Vargas, since her extremely close run against the supposedly unbeatable Ericksen, has decided to run for mayor. She is currently on the Bellingham City Council. I now hear very reliably that April Barker of the council will run for mayor. April is in her first term on the council and is considered a leader in the movement against single family zoning. A seventh possible candidate is Dan Hammill, also a council member, and an ally of Barker’s for dramatic change to city housing.
Mayor Kelli? Widely expected not to run again. But I am unaware of her closing the door. No information on her intentions.
Gene staying on the council may give him almost as much influence as being mayor, in my opinion. Gene is respected by left and right in this town. He is open to all views and often attends community meetings to sit quietly, listen, and learn. We had another like him in Arne Hanna in the past. Gene is a moderate to conservative who strives to understand the concerns of progressives. He trys to keep an open mind and a civil demeanor. I am glad he will remain on the council. We need his leveling influence there.