Four Lakewood City Council positions are on the November election ballot, but voters will have a choice in just one race.
Three incumbents in Pierce County’s second-largest city are unchallenged.
John Simpson and Bryan Thomas are seeking the seat Doug Richardson left after he won election to the Pierce County Council. The City Council replaced Richardson with Helen McGovern-Pilant last winter, but she decided against seeking a full term.
Incumbents Mike Brandstetter, Mary Moss and Jason Whalen get a pass this time around.
The lack of competition doesn’t help the city, Brandstetter said.
Uncontested races result in fewer candidate forums and less debate on issues, he said.
“It’s depriving the community of an opportunity to have public discussions around the future direction of the city,” Brandstetter said. “Anytime there are local uncontested elections the community is a little less better off for it.”
But Brandstetter also said he accepts it “as a vote of confidence in the existing council as a group.”
That’s Richardson’s view as well.
“It’s a pretty much a testament to the fact that people are generally happy with the direction the city is headed,” said Richardson, a 17-year veteran of the council who was around for less happy days.
Politics in Lakewood have calmed down after a tumultuous period about a decade ago.
“There aren’t any divisive issues in the city right now which would probably fuel a campaign against an incumbent,” Richardson said.
Lakewood voters’ lack of choices extends beyond the City Council.
There are no contested races in the Clover Park School District. The two incumbents, Joseph Vlaming and Marty Schafer, are unopposed.
Carole Jacobs, president of the Clover Park School Board, said student achievement scores in the district are generally increasing, especially in high-poverty areas.
“Things are going well,” Jacobs said. “People don’t get real wound up about stuff unless there’s a problem.”
In contrast with Lakewood, three smaller neighboring cities (University Place, DuPont and Fircrest) have a total of nine contested seats between them.
Lakewood voters do have a choice in the race for Position 5 on the City Council. Four candidates ran for Richardson’s former seat in the August primary, with Simpson and Thomas advancing.
The two candidates offer similar views on major issues.
Simpson and Thomas both say economic development is a top priority for Lakewood, population 58,310. It’s already at the top of the agenda for council members and for John Caulfield, the new city manager they hired in the summer.
“I think that economic development, redevelopment and job creation should be priority No. 1,” said Simpson, 61, a history instructor at Pierce College.
Thomas said Lakewood needs to attract more retail and family-oriented businesses to keep tax dollars in the city. The city has too many coffee stands and fast-food restaurants, he said.
Thomas, 56, is an unemployed human resource manager who recently completed a master’s degree. Thomas is the son of Claudia Thomas, a longtime Lakewood council member and mayor who completed her last term in 2011.
Both candidates say one pressing issue facing Lakewood is generating money to maintain the city’s roads.
The choices are adding a car tab fee or raising the property or sales tax, they say.
“You’re going to have to go to the people of Lakewood and say, ‘We need more money,’” Simpson said.
Both prefer the option of asking voters for a sales tax increase.
Both candidates also support Lakewood’s lawsuit to stop the Point Defiance Bypass project – a proposed rerouting of Amtrak passenger trains through the heart of Lakewood.
While Thomas wants to fight in court, he said the city should push transportation officials to offset noise and safety impacts, in case the bypass goes through.
Even if Lakewood loses initially in court, Simpson said, it should exhaust all its appeal options to delay funding until it expires.
“If we can run the appeal process out, we can stop it,” he said.
On the issue of helping pay for public safety costs at the 2015 U.S. Open in University Place, both candidates want to know the costs first.
Thomas said he would only support helping if the city gains as much money in revenue from the golf championship as it would spend.
“I certainly wouldn’t want to see the city take a loss,” Thomas said.
Simpson said: “I think if we can (help), we should.”
Maintaining Lakewood’s relationship with neighboring Joint Base Lewis-McChord is another issue in a city whose residents include many active duty and retired military members.
“Lakewood has done a very good job of building bridges with JBLM,” said Simpson, who was in the U.S. Air Force Reserve for 20 years. “I certainly know they can be maintained.”
Thomas’ late father, Harry Thomas, was a chief warrant officer in the Army.
While the city’s relationship with Joint Base Lewis-McChord is very good, Thomas said, “I always think there can be improvements.”Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647