Matt Driscoll

Victoria Woodards reflects on a painful campaign. ‘I kept my head up the whole time.’

Victoria Woodards leads early Tacoma mayor balloting

Tacoma mayoral candidate Victoria Woodards shares her enthusiasm after early returns show her winning during an election-night party.
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Tacoma mayoral candidate Victoria Woodards shares her enthusiasm after early returns show her winning during an election-night party.

If I read it correctly, it was a wash of sheer joy, and total, complete relief.

As luck would have it, I was sitting with Victoria Woodards the moment Tuesday night’s election results dropped — results that, while early, put her in line to be Tacoma’s next mayor.

Woodards was answering my question about what was at stake for Tacoma. It was one she’d probably answered several hundred times already, but she was being a good sport about it.

Then the news hit, and the bedlam broke out. Tears, hugs, exclamations of elation from supporters — there was a little bit of everything.

All of it was understandable.

The moment of unscripted celebration was the culmination of what had been a long, grueling, and intensely painful campaign.

Woodards’ education had been questioned. So, too, had her character. Ugly, racial undertones had surfaced online. None of it made for the City of Destiny’s finest hour.

For a self-described “Tacoma girl,” the ferocity with which Woodards had seen herself attacked had to take its toll. How could it not?

Woodards had acknowledged being worried about the outcome of the race.

My guess is that was an understatement. My hunch is she was terrified.

“I tell people that I didn’t wake up 30 years ago and say, ‘You know what, I want to be mayor, so I’m going to do everything I can and line myself up perfectly,’” Woodards said of her reaction to Tuesday’s ballot drop and the personal attacks she’d endured during the campaign.

“I just really get up every day and I want to be a good person,” she continued, tears welling in her eyes. “And I want to do good things for people. And that moment felt to me, like, you know when you’re looking for your mom’s approval and you want her to say, ‘Good job?’ It just felt like Tacoma said to me, ‘Good job.’”

Some voters certainly sent that message, but others clearly did not. So it goes. In elections, like sports, all that matters is scoring more points than your opponent. We’ll see if her lead holds.

While Woodards’ camp wasn’t ready to officially declare victory Tuesday night, they came close.

“We feel very good,” Woodards said, noting that her percentage of the overall vote total rose in every ballot drop after August’s primary, and she expects the same to be true this time around.

Still, it’s also clear that there’s work to be done either way. A mayoral campaign like the one Tacoma just witnessed leaves scars and raw feelings. In some ways, while the months that led up to this point have been difficult for Woodards, her true challenge might lie ahead.

She promised she’s ready.

“I’m going to be everyone’s mayor, whether people voted for me or not,” Woodards told me. “That’s how it’s going to be. That’s how I am.”

Time, and ultimately history, will be the judge of that.

Those are questions, and columns, for another day.

This was a time for Woodards to celebrate, and reflect on the gauntlet endured. It’s the story of a “ little girl who grew up on the East Side of Tacoma, who went to Roosevelt Elementary School, who joined the military, who didn’t get to finish college,” as she put it, who’s now on the verge of becoming the city’s next mayor.

“I kept my head up the whole time,” Woodards said. “And I kept my head up because I know that what happened to me, and what people said to me, was not representative of this whole city. And the city said it loud and clear tonight.”

Moments later, Woodards headed to the front of the room to address the growing crowd. She danced and smiled the smile of a candidate who’d had a thousand-pound weight lifted from her.

As the band played “My Name is Victory,” she sang the words with feeling.

“Tonight, Tacoma chose hope over hatred,” Woodards would later tell the crowd.

“Tonight, Tacoma chose opportunity over oppression.

“Tonight, Tacoma chose faith over fear.”

It was high-minded stuff.

On this night, though, and in this room, you got the sense people believed every word of it.

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