If you look at a campaign sign for a city council candidate you will most likely see the letters “NP” somewhere on the sign. Of course NP stands for Non Partisan; meaning that the candidates are not running under the banner of any political party. Now while this may seem comforting to many, the simple fact of the matter is, so long as there are questions as to the role of government in ever day life or questions as to where the public’s money is best spent; there is by definition a political bias in every candidate for public office. And, at every election cycle, the various candidates line up at the door of the two political parties to ask for their endorsement as well as financial and logistical support. There are, of course, a few exceptions to this rule but, by and large, those of us who pay attention to the political game know the Rs from the Ds in local politics. Therefore it is with great interest that I read Jerry Cornfield’s piece in the Sunday Everett Herald: “Storm clouds brew in 2 Everett City Council races”
In his piece, Cornfield writes about the challenge to two of the four incumbents up for re-election in this year’s city council contest; Brenda Stonecipher (Pos. 6) and Drew Nielsen (Pos 5). Right up front, he reveals that current mayor, Ray Stephanson, has taken the somewhat unusual step of openly endorsing the challenger to a sitting city council member. It is more common for the mayor to remain neutral (as he is doing in Stonecipher’s race).
“In fact, Mayor Ray Stephanson wants to see Nielsen defeated badly enough that he’s endorsed the councilman’s opponent, Erv Hoglund.”
What makes Stephanson’s endorsement all the more unusual is that both he and Councilman Nielsen are “perceived” to be Democrats while Hoglund is widely known as a Republican activist and perennial candidate. In fact, Hoglund’s wife, Frauna, has actually served as the Chair of the local Republican Party. Of course, working against the grain isn’t something new for Stephanson. As I wrote about him back in 2009 (during the time when Boeing was making their decision to start a new 787 assembly line in South Carolina and demanding a “No-Strike” clause from the machinists’ union):
“Closer to home it seems even the local politicians are more than happy to carry the airplane maker’s water for them. According to a source who attended one of the meetings on the day of the Vought purchase announcement (and repeated by the Everett Herald the next day) Everett mayor, Ray Stephanson, is one of the local politicos carrying the no-strike message for the aerospace giant…”
While suggesting that there are a number of reasons why Nielsen and Stonecipher would be losing the support of the mayor as well as some others in the area, Cornfield writes of only one issue where the incumbents are facing any organized opposition:
“Though it’s certainly not one thing, it seems clear city workers and a few of the old political guard soured on the incumbents for their unflagging support of spending a big wad of tax dollars to fix up an old bank building for use by the Village Theater.
Nielsen and Stonecipher ardently backed shelling out in the neighborhood of $4 million for renovations of the building and sprucing up a surrounding plaza. It’s not like folks didn’t appreciate the goal. Those lining up against the incumbents fault them for bad timing — pushing the City Council to dish out those dollars while freezing pay and cutting funds elsewhere to balance the budget.”
In response to the article, Councilman Nielsen ran a lengthy statement on his website (which he also left as a comment to the Cornfield piece in the Herald). The comment goes in to some detail as to the events and circumstances of the Kidstage Theater. It reads in part:
“Initially, the idea of a downtown plaza grew out of a citizen’s committee, formed without City involvement, advocating a downtown park. That idea was embraced in Everett’s award-winning downtown plan. At the same time, Key Bank, which used a building downtown on the same block as the Performing Arts Center, bought what was then the Everett Mutual tower and closed the branch. In executive session, Mayor Stephanson recommended that the City purchase the Key Bank building and City Council unanimously agreed in open session when it approved the project…
… Following that step, Art Skotdal, whose family and businesses own property on three sides of proposed plaza, came to City Council and advocated that the City build a parking garage at the site. This was about the time, after we had entered into a written agreement with Village Theater and it was well on the way to raising its $1 million contribution, that a minority of Council started saying that while the project was a good one, we should do it “later.”
Both before and after the 2009 City Council election, a majority of Council voted to proceed with the project. In each case, Mayor Stephanson had the power to veto the action and did not do so. In what may have been an effort to make the supporters look irresponsible, the Key Bank building was budgeted by the Administration at $1.7 million. Ultimately, bids came in substantially below our engineer’s estimate and the entire cost of bringing the building shell up to code, including soft costs, was $1.2 million. A significant portion of that, by the way, is asbestos abatement which was required whether the building was remodeled or demolished.
To be clear, the only costs borne by the City are the cost of making the building usable for any tenant, and the cost of the plaza. The renovation of the space inside as classrooms and performing space was completely borne by Village Theater.
Village Theater now leases the building and the City receives a small return on its investment…”
Whatever the reason for the rift between the mayor and Mr. Nielsen; the question that local Democrats should be asking themselves is: What does this open endorsement of such a high-profile Republican say about the continuing relationship between the Democrats and the mayor. I have requested comment from the Chairpersons of the county Democrats, Bill Phillips, as well as the 38th Legislative District, Alex Hendrickson but as of this posting, I have received no reply.