Mayoral races dominate the primary election landscape in East Pierce County this summer.
Overall, 13 cities or towns in Pierce County have mayor seats on the ballot this year. Four of those communities have more than two candidates vying for the top spots.
That means candidates in those races — in Bonney Lake, Eatonville, Auburn and Wilkeson — will face off in the Aug. 6 primary, narrowing the field to the top two vote-getters who will move on to the Nov. 5 general election.
The election will herald the end of the line for Pierce County’s longest-serving sitting mayor, Pete Lewis of Auburn. It also will bring a rare mayoral primary to Eatonville; Town Administrator Doug Beagle has said this is the first time he can recall that happening.
Meanwhile, three mayor contests — in Gig Harbor, Milton and Sumner — have less competition and will go straight to the November election.
The rest of the county’s open mayor positions are solo elections, with candidates running unopposed this November in Tacoma, Ruston, Orting, Buckley, Steilacoom and Roy.
Primary ballots started arriving in mailboxes last weekend.
One-term Mayor Ray Harper has opted to run for an Eatonville Town Council seat, leaving his current post wide open. Four candidates are seeking to take Harper’s place and help solve the town’s long-standing financial problems.
The packed race comes after years of financial troubles.
Eatonville, like other small towns, has struggled with declining property values. A costly expansion of the town’s fire department several years ago put additional strain on the budget.
Last year, Harper proposed disbanding the police department and contracting with Pierce County to relieve the widening deficit. The Town Council rejected the idea after strong public outcry.
Mayoral candidate Mike Schaub, who has served six years as elected town treasurer, wants to help improve the town’s financial health. After working for years in government finance, he said he has the skills to move Eatonville forward.
“I know we’re going to be dealing with baby steps to get ourselves there, but I know we can do it,” Schaub said.
Similarly, former Eatonville fire chief Carl “Bud” Lucas, who managed Eatonville’s fire station expansion and was fired by Harper, wants to maintain public safety service levels and protect police and firefighters from staff cuts.
“My plan for the town is to attempt to get them out of the current crisis,” he said. “My biggest issue is the protection of public safety.”
Candidates Gordon Bowman and James Valentine both serve on the Town Council.
Bowman, a councilman since 2009, said the biggest challenge is maintaining a high level of services in a declining economy. Promoting Eatonville as a destination for new businesses will help solve that problem, he said.
Valentine, a six-year council member, said his decision to run also was prompted by the town’s finances. He wants to increase transparency, he said.
“Our biggest challenge going into the new year is a lack of revenues and how those revenues are being spent,” Valentine said.
Valentine has faced financial scrutiny of his own. Late last year, about $250,000 of funds were discovered missing from Masonic Lodge No. 228, Terrestrial Mt. View, where Valentine is the former secretary-treasurer. Anthony Ward, the worshipful master of the lodge and facing theft charges of his own, accused Valentine of theft.
Valentine had no comment on the case Friday but denied wrongdoing in previous interviews with The News Tribune.
Mayor Neil Johnson, who ran for re-election unopposed in 2009, faces two challengers this time. Johnson led a failed effort to create a parks taxing district in the plateau city during April’s special election — an idea that didn’t sit well with his opponents.
The measure sought to establish a funding source for improvement and maintenance of Bonney Lake parks. It failed overwhelmingly, with more than 80 percent of voters rejecting it.
Mayoral challenger James Rackley, who’s served on the City Council for 14 years, opposed the measure. He said Johnson has stopped listening to the public. Rackley is running in response to the way the parks issue was handled.
“We wasted $28,000 on a ballot measure that shouldn’t have gone out,” Rackley said.
Candidate Mike Munson, a self-employed construction worker, said the city has made many mistakes that he hopes to set straight.
“I’m running on common sense,” he said. “I’m running for the people and not for the council.”
Johnson, who served on the City Council in 2002 until he was elected mayor in 2005, said he wants to continue the effort to improve parks.
“My job as mayor is to bring information to the council, and that’s what I did,” he said.
After being diagnosed with leukemia and having a stem cell transplant nearly two years ago, Johnson said he owes Bonney Lake more years of service after all the support the city showed him during his health struggles.
Johnson said he’s cancer free and visits the doctor about every six months. He said his goal is to complete unfinished business.
“We’ve made a lot of good progress,” he said.
In Auburn, Mayor Pete Lewis is stepping down after serving the city since 1998, including four terms as mayor.
Lewis oversaw a period of public safety improvements and growth in the city that straddles Pierce and King counties. A pair of annexations boosted the city’s population by more than 15,000 about six years ago.
Many of the goals set during Lewis’ tenure have been met, he said.
“I think it is time to have some fresh ideas,” he said.
Army veteran Scot Pondelick and Auburn City Council members John Partridge and Nancy Backus are running to replace Lewis.
Wilkeson, the town of about 500 on the west-central edge of Mount Rainier, also has three candidates seeking to replace Mayor Donna Hogerhuis, who’s stepping down.
David Wright has served on the Planning Commission, Robert Walker is a former council member and Doug Paulson was mayor from 2002 to 2006. Wright wants to improve infrastructure, according to the election guide, while Walker and Paulson want to foster strong community and respect for town employees, respectively.
NEWS TRIBUNE ONLINE VOTER GUIDE
Want to know more about the port, city and town council, mayor and school board candidates on your Aug. 6 primary ballot? Check out our election guide at thenewstribune.com. Candidates answer our questions, and we’ll give you a customized “ballot” with their responses, based on where you live.Kari Plog: 253-597-8682 firstname.lastname@example.org @KariPlog