Democracy is not a spectator sport.
Jean Layton told me this last year when I asked her why she chose to challenge Roxanne Murphy, who was seeking reelection to the at-large seat on the Bellingham City Council.
Layton was no match for the affable Murphy, who cruised to her third two-year term in the 2017 elections. But Layton’s sentiment endures. Three years after all four City Council positions up for election attracted only one candidate each—including a wide-open seat in Ward 1, anchored by the Birchwood neighborhood—24 people have submitted applications to the city to replace Murphy. She announced on Sept. 1 that she was leaving her City Council seat, and Bellingham, for a new job as assistant city manager for Valdez, Alaska.
The City Council will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 1 at City Hall to hear all candidates make three-minute pitches. A city statement says council members will convene privately then announce their appointment before the public, all in the same evening. The new council member will serve until next year’s elections. Of course the appointee may choose to step aside at that point, or seek another two years by getting on the ballot and campaigning. Murphy’s spot is the only at-large seat among seven on the council; all registered voters within the city limits are eligible for the position.
So whom will the council choose? Applicants include two former council members—Stan Snapp, who retired in 2013, and Tip Johnson, who served 1986-93. (Johnson also is a longtime writer for NWCitizen.) MIchael McAuley, who retired from the Port of Bellingham commission last year, also presented himself as a candidate.
Others in the mix include city planning commissioner Lisa Anderson, the founding director of the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center, small-business owners, a “working poet,” and the publisher of The Betty Pages, perhaps best known by the stage name “Betty Desire.”
The question remains: Whom will the council choose? Does someone seek this appointment as a stepping-stone to a run for mayor next year? Does the council want someone who will run to retain the seat next year, or someone who says they will step out of the way when voters decide on the seat? Murphy was one of three women on the council, and a member of the Nooksack Indian Tribe. Will the council seek to maintain the group’s current level of diversity?
You can determine for yourself who might be most qualified by reviewing all 24 applications, posted here on the city’s website.