Since the primary election, I have been speaking to candidates, reading their positions as reported in local media and watching the debates. Of all the candidates, only Roxanne Murphy has not responded to my emails asking for a meeting. I have met with Clayton Petree on two occasions, once with Bob Burr and once with Pinky Vargas.
As for Roxanne, I am flabbergasted that a candidate for an at-large position on the Bellingham City Council, which essentially represents all wards, would not even respond to a prospective constituent’s email. All I know about her is from some statements published in various media, and her performance during the League of Women Voters debate. I am not a single issue voter, but some topics are of greater interest to me and I regard these subjects, to some extent, as bellwethers to gauge a candidate's thought processes and the use, or lack of, factual data. From what I have been able to determine, her opinion on rental health and safety has been muddled by an experience in Tacoma, a city with a badly flawed ordinance that is no more effective, and a lot more cumbersome, than what we currently have here in Bellingham. You can read my exchange with Riley Sweeney in the comment section of his blog entry on candidates by clicking here. When asked for a statement on issues for the Voters’ Pamphlet distributed by the Whatcom Couny Auditor, Roxanne wasted valuable space listing the people and organizations that have endorsed her. Endorsements are not ideas. Endorsements are not policy concepts. Endorsements are not positions on issues. Endorsements proffered by a candidate are nothing more than statements of obligations to groups or individuals.
By contrast, Bob Burr is long time resident of Bellingham whose learning curve on the problems facing Bellingham is not an issue. This is a man who put himself on the (rail) line for a cause (anti-coal) and was arrested during that protest. He is still facing legal action. This alone should qualify him for a council seat! Bob is a progressive thinker who will bring a badly-needed fresh presence to the council. He takes no money and therefore creates no obligations. Having been here for almost two decades he is very well informed about rental safety and health, supporting the registration and inspection of all rental units through a revenue neutral fee system that will not affect the city's general fund one whit. Bob’s statement in the Voters’ Pamphlet is about ideas and approaches to problems. It is about specific stances on issues and not at all like Roxanne’s generalized statements about endorsements and believing in Bellingham, whatever that means.
Pinky Vargas should have waited a few more years before running for City Council. She is lively and engaging but that is not the stuff of policy and speaks little to knowledge about issues. I enjoyed speaking with her and she listened intently. The problem is that running for office is about having knowledge and positions on issues before becoming a candidate. All candidates learn while seeking office, but running for office is not a process during which one begins to cobble together ideas for a coherent campaign. Her response to me on rental health and safety was tardy, as she evidently had no position when she began her campaign. When I did get a response, it was a mish-mash of incomplete and fuzzy thoughts that she had already provided in written form to the Bellingham Herald. You can read her comments by clicking here. It looks like a statement written by a committee. She mixes in talk of affordable housing. She “wonders” if we can have an inspection program without dipping into the general fund even though I told her that a $2 per month per unit fee would bring in over $400,000. The funding of registering and inspecting rentals would be revenue neutral. If $2 is not enough, make it $2.50. The fact that $1.5 million of our general fund goes to the museum department each year might be something for Pinky to examine, but I am not hearing anything about that.
I have met and spoken with Clayton Petree before his candidacy and twice since he began his run for City Council. We certainly do not agree on everything, but Clayton has a command of facts about the issues facing Bellingham that far surpasses Pinky’s knowledge. Clayton can hit the ground running. My friend Pat McKee of the Sunnyland neighborhood recently wrote to his neighbors, “Clayton Petree is an independent thinker, with good analytical skills. Clayton's viewpoint and talent are needed on the City Council.” I agree. When I spoke to Clayton about rental licensing, he was not an enthusiastic proponent, however, after a long conversation he came back to me in an email saying he could support the concept of licensing and inspection of rentals. This is a candidate who listens and processes facts. I can work with that.
I will not automatically support party favorites. I want some clear thinking and innovative voices on the City Council. Bob Burr and Clayton Petree are my picks to turn the council into an effective and forward-looking legislative body.