No matter the outcome, two new faces will join Tacoma City Council next year.
Filing week closed Friday for candidates running for office across the state.
In Tacoma, there are four City Council seats up for grabs: Position 1, Position 3 and At-Large Positions 7 and 8. All four seats will have a challenger.
Two of those seats are open will be filled by newcomers. Councilmen Ryan Mello, At-Large District 8, and Anders Ibsen, District 1, are vacating the council due to term limits.
What’s surprising — and somewhat concerning — is that fewer people than expected are vying for the open seats, said former mayor and Tacoma Historical Society president Bill Baarsma. Typically, there can be four or five candidates filing for open positions.
That’s not the case this year. While no one’s running unopposed, all but one council race has only two candidates. Political consultants see this election as a somewhat sleepy year in Tacoma.
“The two open seats have very well-established contenders running for them,” Republican political consultant Alex Hays said.
Top issues voters and candidates in Tacoma will be talking about this year? Affordable housing, homelessness, economic development and jobs, the relationship between the city and the port and Tideflats development.
President Donald Trump has influenced how people think about politics at the local level, said political consultant Dorian Waller. Waller works for Archway Consulting Group, the firm running District 8 candidate John O’Loughlin and school board candidate Enrique Leon’s campaigns. Councilman Keith Blocker, who’s running for re-election in Tacoma’s District 3, also works at the firm.
“I think there is the ‘Trump Effect’ — the voters want someone who will strongly advocate for issues and policies (the way) Trump is doing on a national level,” Waller said.
In northwest Tacoma, Nathe Lawver, political director and community liaison for Laborers Local 252, and Tacoma Public Schools instructional facilitator John Hines are vying for the Position 1 seat vacated by Ibsen.
At-Large Position 7 has the most attention with four candidates: incumbent Deputy Mayor Conor McCarthy, Air Force veteran and Wane + Flitch furniture company salesman Brett Johnson, health care group Whole Washington board member Courtney Love and longtime resident Kyle Jolibois.
For At-Large Position 8, Downtown On the Go Executive Director Kristina Walker and longtime Tacoma environmental scientist John O’Loughlin will campaign for the seat vacated by Mello.
Tacoma City Council is losing two of its members with the “most pronounced agendas,” said Hays, referring to Ibsen and Mello, who have progressive viewpoints.
Now that their seats are up for grabs, Tacoma voters have a choice: to maintain that direction or not.
“There’s definitely a possibility of a realignment on council,” said Nic Van Putten with Progressive Strategies NW. The firm is working with Lawver on his campaign. “Nathe would carry forward that progressive mantle in the District 1 seat, and I speculate that Kristina would as well (in District 8).”
Lawver would likely be “in the tradition” of Anders, Baarsma said, while Hines is more “business-oriented.”
Ibsen and Mello have endorsed Walker and Lawver for their races.
Will voters choose that path? A look at last year’s Tacoma Creates arts initiative, which passed at 67 percent, gives some indication, Van Putten said.
“Everyone appreciates the arts, but arts is rarely the top of people’s priority list when it come to prioritizing their tax spending,” Van Putten said. “So to see that do so well suggests to me that the progressive move in Tacoma is, if anything, accelerating rather than dropping off.”
With the current candidates, there could be “a continuation of the progressive thinking on the council,” Baarsma said.
Incumbents also will be hard to beat, Baarsma said. For one, term limits take away the incentive for people to challenge them rather than waiting for open seats. The emergence of Political Action Committees and concerns for raising enough money can steer away potential candidates.
“I think the two incumbents will be just fine,” Baarsma said.
Blocker is one such incumbent. He was elected to council in 2015 and has raised $15,000 for his campaign, according to the Public Disclosure Commission.
McCarthy is the other. Not only does he have experience in campaigning, said Waller, he’s raised the most money of all council candidates — a total of $43,000.
McCarthy’s father serves on the Port of Tacoma Commission, while his mother is a former Pierce County executive.
“He’s done everything right in regards to his campaigns, and his last name doesn’t hurt either,” Waller said.
The Tacoma Public Schools board also has two open seats this year.
Incumbent Enrique Leon of District 2 is running his first campaign after being appointed to the board of directors in place of Catherine Ushka, who won her bid to City Council in 2017. Leon faces opponents Kristopher Kerns and John Marsden.
Incumbent Debbie Winskill is also running for re-election and has 30 years of service under her belt, after being elected to the board in 1989. Winskill has an opponent in Lisa Keating.
County-wide, there were 196 positions open for candidate filing, in the areas of the port, schools, cities, fire, parks and recreation, water and sewer. As of 4:30 p.m. Friday, 284 people had filed.
That’s roughly the same as previous years, according to the Pierce County Auditor’s Office. In 2017, 298 candidates filed for about 182 offices. 2015 saw a jump of 380 candidates filing for 200 offices, including 88 candidates for 20 charter review district offices.