More than half of the city of Tacoma’s elected leaders are on the ballot this fall, but you might not know it judging by the generally low-key nature of this year’s city elections.
The mayor and four sitting City Council members are up for re-election. Only half face challengers, and among those three, only two have significant opposition.
The hardest fought race is in District 2, where two small-business owners are vying for the council seat – one touting his worldly experience and the other her deep, local roots.
Patricia Lecy-Davis, 46, is challenging Robert Thoms, 43, for the position he’s held since January. Lecy-Davis applied for the seat then, too. She had the support of two City Council members but the council voted unanimously to appoint Thoms.
Lecy-Davis said she’s running for the office again because she wants to make it easier for small business owners to navigate city bureaucracy.
“There are a lot of barriers to doing business in Tacoma, whether it be taxation or regulation or just an unclear path of how to get all of the answers,” Lecy-Davis said.
Lecy-Davis said if elected, she would promote the whole of Tacoma rather than just District 2, which includes the industrial Tideflats area, Northeast Tacoma, downtown and part of the North End.
She and Thoms have run a mostly friendly race, but Lecy-Davis does say her approach would differ from her opponent’s.
“I see (Thom’s) actions to be very high-level and more focused on the region, the state and the federal impact. And although that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I think right now Tacoma needs someone on the ground level,” she said.
She said her skill is finding common ground among different groups of people.
“I’m a hairdresser, so I’m technically a psychologist at the same time,” she said. “I listen at a deep level. When somebody comes to me and wants a change in their hair, it’s not just about the hair. There’s something going on in their lives. … That’s what I can do with council members.”
Thoms said he has found success in his short tenure on the council. He voted for the formation of the city’s fiscal sustainability task force – a group of residents with various business backgrounds who seek ways to narrow the city’s budget gap. He also has supported the creation of the city’s transportation commission and the transportation master plan.
“It’s the Navy in me,” said Thoms, a Naval reserve officer. “At least if you have a plan, you have a plan. If you don’t have a plan, there’s no way to execute it and you can’t tell if you did well or not.”
Thoms has experience at the federal level, having opened U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s Tacoma office when he moved here in 2003.
He said his experience working in Washington, D.C., and Olympia will continue to benefit the residents of Tacoma. He also owns a local lobbying firm, The Navigation Group.
That business, and what he calls a passion for public education, landed him in hot water with the city’s ethics board earlier this year.
The board found that Thoms improperly used his position on the City Council to advocate for a Tacoma Public Schools bond measure while his lobbying firm was being paid by the district. During a Feb. 5 council meeting, Thoms voted for a council resolution that supported the district’s bond issue and urged voters to approve it.
Earlier this month, Thoms – who has since dropped his contract with the school district – said he learned an important lesson.
“In the future if I ever have a question, I will absolutely recuse myself,” Thoms said. “It would have been just as easy to recuse myself. Supporting it (the resolution to support the district’s proposition) was just part of my values.”
Thoms has raised almost twice as much as Lecy-Davis, pulling in $61,784 to Lecy-Davis’ $32,297. Among his donors are former Tacoma Mayor Brian Ebersole, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland and Pierce County Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg.
Thoms’ endorsements also include U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, five members of the Tacoma City Council, and a collection of union and business leaders.
Lecy-Davis counts state Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, and Tacoma City Councilman David Boe among her donors. Her endorsements include Pierce County Council Chairwoman Joyce McDonald, former city mayor Mike Crowley, several area unions and various Tacoma business leaders.
Tacoma’s southern end has sometimes been forgotten, say both candidates running for the District 5 council seat.
“At one point I had to fight to get the 5th District to be shown on the map (on city documents),” said City Councilman Joe Lonergan. “The city doesn’t stop at the mall.”
However, Lonergan said that perception is no longer the reality.
“I’m really pleased with the work that we’ve done,” Lonergan said. “The reality is we do get our share.”
But his opponent, Olgy Diaz, said the work is not yet done.
She argues that Lonergan ignores some needs of residents in the district, which encompasses areas south of 56th Street and west of McKinley Avenue in South Tacoma and the South End.
“The incumbent is a very nice man, but he tends to lean toward the Republican end, so he doesn’t believe in the government or social services,” Diaz said.
Lonergan defends his work, saying he supported for funding for homeless youth and a mental health services sales tax “even though, I guess, in the Republican world that might not be a popular thing to do.”
“The record speaks for itself. I’ve fought for social services,” Lonergan said.
On this the candidates agree: The city’s economic development efforts have not always given the southern areas of the city their due.
Diaz said her biggest priority if she is elected will be economic development and filling empty storefronts and encouraging their growth, “so they don’t go out of business in a year and a half. … That’s jobs for people in my area.”
Lonergan said that tide could be turning. Recently a Bass Pro Shop announced it would move into a former Lowes building, and a Goodwill opened earlier this year in a former Value Village building.
Diaz says her experience as a legislative aide to state Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma, will help her negotiate regional issues, she said. For example, she said, Tacoma could work with University Place to clean up the transportation corridors that link Tacoma with University Place for the upcoming U.S. Open golf tournament.
“You can tell when you’re driving on a city of Tacoma road and when you cross the city line (into University Place). That’s a problem,” Diaz said. “I would’ve loved to have seen that work done about three or four years ago.”
Diaz has raised $14,575 to Lonergan’s $7,859. Diaz said that speaks to her viability as a candidate.
Among Lonergan’s financial supporters are City Councilman David Boe, tow truck operators and Poly Bag LLC. Diaz’s donors include several Democratic-leaning organizations such as Emily’s List, National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington, several union organizations and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington.
Kate Martin: 253-597-8542
Age: 43. Years in Tacoma: 10.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science from State University of New York; now attending graduate school at Gonzaga University for a master’s in organizational leadership
Occupation: Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserves; owner of public affairs firm The Navigation Group
Age: 47. Years in Tacoma: About 40.
Education: Fashion and retail certificate from Clover Park Technical College; cosmetology license from Gene Juarez Academy
Occupation: Owner of Embellish Multispace Salon and Smooth & Juicey
Age: 36. Years in Tacoma: More than 30.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration with majors in marketing and management from Eastern Washington University
Occupation: Real estate agent
Age: 27. Years in Tacoma: 3; grew up in Spanaway.
Education: Bachelor’s degrees in Latin American studies and women’s studies from the University of Washington
Occupation: Legislative aid for state Rep. David Sawyer
Incumbent plans to curb gang activity
Also on Tacoma voters’ ballots is a race between a one-term councilwoman and a man serving time in the Pierce County jail.
Victoria Woodards said she’s proud of the work she has done with Tacoma’s gang reduction project and would like to help the city finish its assessment of gang activity.
“I love Tacoma and think Tacoma is an amazing place. We are lucky that we get to live here,” she said.
Lately, Woodards – who is president and CEO of the Tacoma Urban League – has been working toward her first bachelor’s degree, in marketing and public relations.
“I wasn’t a great student in the first place. I’ve always been a student of life,” she said. “I have so much experience at this point in my life. I want my degree to complement my experience.”
Woodards, 48, is running for the at-large position against Robert Hill, a perennial candidate who is in jail for crimes including harassment, indecent exposure and unlawful weapons possession.