At some point last week, John Hines had a change of heart.
Hines was known until Friday as the well-meaning candidate facing an uphill battle against Conor McCarthy, the well-connected son of the Pierce County executive, for an at-large council position.
Now? Hines — a high school teacher, Foss football coach and one-time “Jeopardy” Teachers Tournament semifinalist — is the man of the hour, having switched races at the last minute to challenge Anders Ibsen.
In jumping into the District 1 fracas, Hines didn’t just throw his hat in the ring, he did so with the backing and endorsement of the mayor and every City Council member but Ryan Mello.
In other words, this was a City Council coup.
Or, as Hines calls it, “an historic no-confidence vote” in Ibsen.
“We understand this is unprecedented. It speaks to style and the relationship the incumbent has with this council,” a statement attributed to councilmen David Boe and Marty Campbell declared.
Boe and Campbell went on to tout Hines as “the type of legislator with whom we’d want to serve and build a better Tacoma.” Mayor Strickland added, “As a union member who understands the needs of small businesses, John will be a strong addition to the team."
So what happened?
To hear Hines tell it, the voters of District 1 “are hungry for new representation.” He says he’s heard “a constant drumbeat” from constituents wanting him to run in the 1st, and that after my column last week pointing out that Ibsen looked poised to run uncontested, he says things “got pretty unbearable.”
“Every door I went to, it was hard to ignore,” he tells me.
It’s a relatively new realization for Hines. Just a week before his fateful decision to change course, Hines told me he wasn’t interested in taking on Ibsen.
“I just have always seen myself more of an at-large candidate,” Hines said. “… I’m a labor union guy. I’m a public school teacher, and Anders and I line up on a lot of those things.
“Tactically we’re probably a little different. … I feel like I’m a little more of a moderate. I feel like he’s good at being the strident left wing of the council.”
Taking Hines out of it for a moment, that’s really what this is about. Ibsen’s hardline progressive stances have rankled many of his council colleagues over the last four years. And it’s clear his style of doing business hasn’t made him many allies.
“You can respect someone having a different opinion, but you still have to work in a civilized manner and share ideas and have discussion on ideas,” Boe tells me. “I have found it very difficult to have a discussion of ideas (with Ibsen) without being cast as being wrong.”
“The professional working relationship isn’t the best it can be,” Campbell says. “I don’t want this to be an indictment on Mr. Ibsen, because I think he’s a good guy. (The decision to endorse Hines) is harder than it looks on paper. It’s a difficult thing to do, and that’s why you don’t see it that often.”
You certainly don’t, which is why, with all due respect to Campbell, it’s hard to view this as anything but an indictment of Ibsen, the council member.
While Hines is adamant that “no one called me up and said do this now,” he does concede that challenging Ibsen is a subject that has repeatedly come up in his discussions with current council members over the last few months.
Joe Lopez isn’t surprised. Though he dropped out of the Position 7 at-large race in late April, Lopez, who also lives in District 1, says he received “a lot of calls from people looking for a candidate” to challenge Ibsen. He says calls came in from “people associated with the Chamber,” “business people,” “restaurant people” and even from members of the council.
“I talked to some council members over the last couple months,” Lopez says. “I knew it would be easier to get endorsements. And there were offers of endorsements fairly early on.”
Here’s what’s crystal clear: While Hines may have made his decision to jump into the District 1 race just last week, the council’s decision to try to oust Ibsen this fall is one that was a long time in the making.
“This is just politics and it’s something you shouldn’t take personally,” Ibsen tells me. “It’s just business.”
True, but it’s far from business as usual on the typically play-nice Tacoma City Council.