Other than mayor, only one office on this year’s Tacoma primary ballot represents all the city’s neighborhoods, business districts and residents: City Council at-large Position 6.
The job calls for a leader with a panoramic vision of Tacoma, an inclusive perspective and a unifying personality. We believe Lillian Hunter, Meredith Neal and Gregory Christopher best exemplify those virtues in a crowded five-person primary.
Only two can move on for a chance to replace council member Lauren Walker Lee, a one-year appointee who’s stepping aside. Voters have a tough choice to make by Aug. 1. That challenge was reflected on the TNT Editorial Board, which suspended its custom of endorsing no more than two candidates in a primary race.
Hunter is supremely qualified for the post — one of three at-large positions on the eight-member City Council — because of her professional pedigree, fluency on local issues and Tacoma roots that run deep and broad.
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She resides in the South End, but has lived and worked all over Tacoma in her 48 years here. An admirable education career, including as principal of Oakland Alternative High School and administrator of the state’s alternative-ed programs, makes her sensitive to the needs of struggling youth and families.
If that were the sum of her experience, Hunter, 62, might be a better fit for Tacoma School Board. But her resume runs much longer.
Hunter spent 20 years in the private sector and managed an oral-health clinic. She strived to keep libraries open during two terms on the city library board. And she articulates clear views on everything from fostering economic development to respecting tribal treaty rights.
Neal, for her part, is waging a robust campaign, in which she leads the field in fundraising and spending. The Proctor resident claims a long list of backers including City Council members and peers who serve alongside her on the Tacoma Planning Commission; her base of support has a decidedly progressive flavor, despite this being a nonpartisan position.
The 38-year-old Neal would bring an intriguing background to the council. She’s an urban-planning graduate from Evergreen State College and a self-styled environmentalist, but works for a construction company and knows the hassles of permit bureaucracy. She’s a Washington D.C. native with outsider insights, but swears loyalty to the city where she settled and is raising two sons.
“I want my kids to see what’s going on in the world and then choose to come back here,” she said of Tacoma, her home of 17 years..
The third at-large candidate whom voters would do well to consider is Christopher, senior pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church on the Hilltop.
Christopher, 59, is a civil-rights activist who stands on principle, such as when arrested at a Washington, D.C. health care rally last winter. He’s also a man of humility who knows the value of negotiation; he sat on the mayor’s minimum wage task force and serves as an intermediary in Project P.E.A.C.E., the police department’s initiative to improve relations with communities of color.
What Christopher lacks in political campaign skill, he makes up for in leadership experience. He’s president of the NAACP’s Tacoma chapter, a Tacoma Urban League board member and a prominent figure in the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance.
This former crack addict and convicted jewelry store robber could complete the most unlikely of journeys, should he be elected in the place where he raised hell three decades ago. That he could be a moral compass at City Hall might be the most unlikely part of all.
Also vying for Position 6 is Sarah Morken, an environmental and immigrant-rights activist driven by a passion on par with Christopher’s, but who doesn’t have his sense of compromise.
Maria Johnson, the final candidate, is a whip-smart, big-hearted University of Washington Tacoma student unfamiliar with the city’s most pressing issues.