The small towns of Whatcom County are all unique, each having their own issues and visions of their futures. Still, it is all too common to have only a few old diehards sit in their elective offices for years and not pursue those visions. So it was very encouraging last week to see a large number of candidates file to represent the residents of these towns on their councils and as mayors. In order to offer a knowledgeable overview, we are providing the information below from a former NWCitizen writer familiar with our small city politics. As a note, each of the three cities of Blaine, Ferndale and Lynden have city councils of seven seats.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises from filing week, that shouldn’t be a surprise, is the wave of small-city council candidates. This is where some of the fiercest electoral battles will be waged and decided by a only a handful of voters, but these candidates go on to become our next county officials, state legislators and congresspeople. The decisions they make can chart the course of a community or slow it to a crawl.
In Lynden, home to arguably the most boring council meetings in the county (some clocking in at a mighty 15 minutes gavel-to-gavel), of the four council seats up for election, every single race is contested, with incumbents facing numerous challengers. Most notably, three women are seeking to join the all-male council: entrepreneur Nikki Turner is challenging Lynden dynasty Gary Bode, Kris DeGroot is taking on Bode’s right-hand man Ron DeValois, and Lynden liquor store owner Jen Marion is looking to bump off incumbent Brent Lenssen. This would represent a drastic departure for the Lynden City Council which hasn’t had a female member elected to it since 1995 and 1999.* They will be facing off over police staffing levels, a new city park, and the potential departure of embattled City Administrator Mike Martin.
In Ferndale, the fast-evolving city has been thrown into political chaos this year due to the resignation of two council members. As a result, there are six council seats and the mayor’s position up for election this year. Three council incumbents are seeking higher office, with Rebecca Xczar running for County Assessor and Greg Hansen and Keith Olson running against incumbent Jon Mutchler for the mayor’s seat, where they are joined by restaurant owner Robert Pinkley and reclusive author Daniel Sydney Henvenor. With so many open seats, fifteen candidates have stepped forward for those six seats, triggering three primaries.
These council candidates reflect the changing face of Ferndale, with two Latino, one Punjabi, one Russian, and a member of Lummi Nation as candidates. Ferndale remains the most demographically diverse city in Whatcom County and it is encouraging to potentially see the council reflect that diversity. These candidates will be discussing the rising cost of utility services, a downtown catalyst program, and a future site for City Hall.
In Blaine, three council seats are up for election. County Charter Review member Richard May is facing off against Randy Roose, owner of Birch Bay Lawn Care for a City Council seat while four candidates face-off for the seat vacated by Jaime Arnett, who is running for the newly created coastal County Council seat. Discussions will revolve around tourism, investments in local trails, a multi-family tax exemption, and ongoing zoning issues.
Usually, these small-city council races are quiet affairs between extremely part-time candidates, however the influx of new residents into the county - forced by sky-high property values in Bellingham - is impacting the political landscape of these small towns. No longer content to leave city business to the same good-old-boys network that has controlled these bodies for a generation, new residents are rolling up their sleeves and jumping into the fray.
No matter how these races sort out, it is encouraging to see so many citizens willing to step forward and get involved in their local government, providing new ideas in these rapidly changing communities.
All our communities have issues that benefit from public discussion, and election campaigns force those issues into the open as candidates vie for office. When primary elections are triggered, the candidates are forced to deal with issues in July and not wait until late October.
* Dates corrected.