We endorse: In Lakewood, stick with 3 steady City Council members

For Lakewood City Council, The News Tribune Editorial Board endorses (left to right) Mike Brandstetter, Mary Moss and John Simpson.
For Lakewood City Council, The News Tribune Editorial Board endorses (left to right) Mike Brandstetter, Mary Moss and John Simpson.

Has any government in the South Sound endured as much mistrust as Lakewood did in its first decade as a city? An attempt to recall the entire City Council failed in 2000, four years after Lakewood incorporated. But the anti-incumbent fever didn’t break quickly, and a political insurgent group, called Lakewood Cares, used it to elect a series of malcontents.

Those days are long gone. The City Council is collegial, focused and no longer under siege. The city manager enjoys good support. There weren’t even any primary elections on the August ballot. (Which we hope was a sign of effective leadership, not apathy.)

So maybe it’s no surprise we’re endorsing three sure-handed incumbents for the Lakewood City Council seats on the Nov. 7 ballot.

For Position 1, Mary Moss, a longtime credit union community relations manager, seeks a third term after eight solid years on the council. Among her accomplishments, she points to road improvements and beautification projects completed on her watch, and she cites her embrace of Lakewood’s rich diversity through a multicultural coalition she helped form. Moss, 77, also represents Lakewood on the Sound Transit board, giving the city a courteous but forceful voice.

Opponent Paul Wagemann, 69, is a familiar name, having served on the Pierce County Charter Review Commission and currently on the Clover Park School Board. The perennial candidate says he ran so that Moss won’t have a free pass to reelection, which we applaud.

The two retirees have a lot in common: deep involvement in public schools and military associations (Wagemann is a former fighter pilot), and Lakewood residency dating to 1991. Both would wisely keep neighborly relations with JBLM top of mind.

Where they differ most is on Sound Transit issues, especially the $54 billion ST3 tax package approved last fall. Wagemann will likely appeal to voters who agree ST3 was “rammed down their throats,” while Moss can tell transit users what she’s helped win for Lakewood, including two more daily roundtrip Sounder trips this fall.

Either candidate would do a fine job, but we’ll stick with Moss — one of only two women on the seven-member council, and the only person of color.

For Position 2 we recommend Mike Brandstetter, who joined the council at the same time as Moss, in 2010. The 70-year-old retired Army command sergeant major now works as a dean at Bates Technical College. He’s a by-the-book councilman with a heart for people in bad circumstances, from substandard rental housing tenants to folks with no home at all.

After helping pass a rental inspection program, Brandstetter, the council’s point person on human services funding, thinks developing a plan to help the homeless is the biggest issue facing Lakewood.

His challenger, Malcolm Russell, is a dynamic candidate with a nonprofit administration background (he runs the Youth Marine Center in Tacoma) and a long list of volunteer credentials, including city and county planning commission service. He touts his family’s century-old Lakewood roots and says he’s raring to help fix the city’s “image problem.”

Russell, 50, makes a good case that Lakewood should grow new leaders, arguing the council needs a representative his age or younger with kids in local public schools. While we like his energy and public service record, we’re concerned that he declined our third-party background and resume check.

In the end, we’re more comfortable with Brandstetter.

For Position 5, John Simpson is the clear choice to retain the seat he’s held for one term. There’s no lack of military experience on the council, and Simpson adds to it as a retired Air Force officer. But he brings a unique expanded resume as a Pierce College history professor and a photojournalist for The Ranger, a JBLM publication.

Simpson, 65, is smart and responsive; he would vote to allow retail marijuana in Lakewood not because he personally supports pot sales but because voters have spoken. He’s the least-tenured council member and exudes a refreshing humility. “I feel like I have to earn it all over again,” he says, dismissing any incumbent’s advantage on Election Day.

Opponent Ria Johnson-Covington, 33, has an admirable wealth of experience with youth and family organizations. But the second-time council candidate struggles to articulate a clear vision or set of priorities she’d pursue, other than to bring people together and “be part of the solution.” Nor does she criticize Simpson’s record.

For now, Lakewood would do well to reelect three steady incumbents, mindful of the need to mentor a new generation of leaders behind them.

Checking their records

The TNT Editorial Board this year is partnering with CandidateVerification as part of our endorsement process this year. The Bellevue-based nonprofit watchdog coordinates background and resume screenings with the candidates’ consent.

For Lakewood City Council, five of six candidates signed up for a background check and no red flags came up. (Position 2 candidate Malcolm Russell declined to participate.)

To see the full database, go online to candidateverification.org.