There’s a stark difference between the motives of the two candidates in Edgewood’s first mayoral race: One wants to finish what he started and the other wants to change the status quo.
But both Daryl Eidinger and Wendal Kuecker tout their commitment to thoughtful growth-management planning and preservation of the city’s rural character.
Pierce County’s primary election on Aug. 4 features dozens of candidates running for local office. The field will be winnowed down in advance of the November general election, and those who come in second place this summer will have a second chance this fall.
But in Edgewood, the primary results are final: The candidate who receives the most votes on Aug. 4 will be the first elected mayor in the East Pierce city of about 9,400 residents.
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Voters will choose between Kuecker, a longtime business owner, and Eidinger, a city councilman who served as the council-appointed mayor until a change-of-government measure was narrowly approved last year.
The winner will serve a four-year term.
Kuecker, a resident in the Edgewood area for 44 years, says the city hasn’t lived within its means, and he’s running to fix what he calls financial mismanagement. The city could be run similarly to his Federal Way property management business, he said.
“Running a city the size of Edgewood with a $14 million budget is no different than what I’ve done in the last 30 or 40 years,” he told The News Tribune.
Kuecker cites the city’s $21 million sewer project — which spurred several lawsuits from property owners after it was completed in 2011 — as one example of mismanagement.
By the time the project was finished, it had skyrocketed in price, he said, forcing people out of their property due to payments they couldn’t afford.
Eidinger has lived in the Edgewood area since 1978.
During the election campaign, he said there’s a lot of misinformation circulating about the state of the city. He’s running to set the record straight.
Eidinger countered Kuecker’s claims about the city sewer project, noting that property owners knew every step of the way what it would cost them.
He wants to continue building on his previous council work to carry out Edgewood’s goals.
“We’ve started in a great direction,” Eidinger said, citing the new comprehensive plan. “I want to see those things carried through.”
The candidates agree that shifting from a council-manager form of government to a strong mayor system is a positive change. Both say it gives power back to the people to hold the top city official accountable.
Before the change of government, a city manager controlled day-to-day operations in Edgewood. Now, those duties will fall to the elected mayor.
A citizen-led petition that was circulated last year spurred the change in government, a move that was apparently aimed at ousting former City Manager Mark Bauer.
One organizer of the petition effort filed a lawsuit in January 2014 that ultimately led the city to overturn a contentious and short-lived utility tax.
A letter that circulated along with last year’s petition referred to the defeated tax and suggested the proposed change in government was meant to take power from Bauer, who ended his stint leading the city earlier this year.
Bauer left the city March 31, after he and the city reached a severance agreement.
Kuecker’s platform appears to align with the anti-utility tax group that’s responsible for the change-of-government measure.
Kuecker supported the group’s cause but says he wasn’t directly involved with the campaigns.
He said Eidinger isn’t the best candidate to manage the city’s finances.
“I know how to run a company and I know how to run it profitably,” Kuecker said.
Eidinger said there’s always room for improvement in city government. He pointed to communication and transparency as two examples of areas to improve.
He noted that Kuecker’s supporters don’t represent broad interests in the city.
“There’s a small group of people who are trying to uproot and change what’s going on,” Eidinger said. “City government needs to look out for all interests, not just a few people.”
Eidinger said his five years on the council and time serving as mayor have equipped him for the new position. He’s also served on the Pierce County Regional Council and the Pierce Transit board of commissioners.
“I have a good pulse on what’s going on in our community,” he said. “ I’m a local neighbor like anyone else.”
Kuecker acknowledged he lacks political experience in Edgewood. But he was active in Federal Way races many years ago, and has endorsements from that city’s mayor and a King County councilman.
MORE IN OUR ONLINE VOTER GUIDE
To learn more about candidates for Edgewood mayor, Edgewood City Council and other primary election races throughout Pierce County, visit The News Tribune’s online voter guide at c3.thevoterguide.org/v/tacoma15