We endorse: Woodards would carry bright torch as Tacoma mayor

Former Tacoma City Council member and Tacoma Urban League president/CEO Victoria Woodards looks up to former Tacoma Mayor Harold Moss as a mentor. Now Woodards wants to lead the city.
Former Tacoma City Council member and Tacoma Urban League president/CEO Victoria Woodards looks up to former Tacoma Mayor Harold Moss as a mentor. Now Woodards wants to lead the city. News Tribune file photo, 2015

He emerged as a leader during the downtown renaissance, helping build splendid structures that bridged old and new Tacoma over the last quarter century.

She emerged as a leader during the current decade of breathless economic and social change, helping build constructive coalitions that will bridge old and new Tacoma heading into the next quarter century.

Veteran architect Jim Merritt and two-term city councilwoman Victoria Woodards both offer credible arguments why they should be the next mayor of Tacoma.

Each was raised here and has staked long records of public service. Each exudes competence, confidence and decency, winning endorsements from trusted community members. As long as there’s an effective city manager in charge, Tacoma will run just fine with either Merritt or Woodards as torchbearer.

But the News Tribune Editorial Board has settled on Woodards as our choice for mayor in the Nov. 7 election.

Woodards, 52, is employed as director of community development for the Tacoma Rainiers, and a baseball analogy seems fitting: She’s more of a singles hitter, while Merritt likes to swing for the fences (a losing mayoral bid in 2009, and now this).

A painstaking climb through the minor leagues of elected office has worked well for Woodards thus far. She was appointed to fill a Metro Parks Board vacancy in 2004, then elected to a four-year term. Then, in seven years on the City Council, she served capably and gained insights by sitting on the health board, among other duties.

Woodards resigned from the council last December to run for mayor. Some criticized her for using a loophole to get around council/mayor term limits. We say she played within the rules in a manner consistent with her gradual ascent. As Aesop wrote: “Slow and steady wins the race.”

What makes Woodards an exceptional candidate is her commitment to diversity. The Lincoln High alumna has lived all over the city. She coordinated Wright Park's Ethnic Fest for years, chaired the State Commission on African American Affairs and was president/CEO of Tacoma Urban League.

In 2015, she connected minority activists with Tacoma Police on the Project PEACE initiative — a model of coalition building at a time when national police-minority relations burned like a brush fire. As mayor, she’d be well suited to address racial, gender and class divisions and lead the conversation on topics dear to her, such as Tacoma’s affordable-housing crisis.

Woodards seems very much the quintessence of Tacoma, from her time in the Army to her Grit City spirit to her bootstrapping drive to succeed, despite lacking a college degree. (She says she aims to be the first Tacoma mayor to complete her degree in office, a worthy goal.)

Helping compensate for gaps in her resume, she wisely latched on to venerable African-American mentors including Tom Dixon and Harold Moss.

Voting for Woodards is unlikely to shake up the progressive City Council majority she once belonged to. But she’s open to contrary points of view; she says Redefine Tacoma, the activist group that has targeted her for consistently supporting a liquefied natural gas plant at the Port, “is the group I want to meet with the most if elected mayor.”

A vote for Merritt, by contrast, is more of a pushback against the status quo. He opposes the LNG plant, and questions whether Tacoma is getting a fair return from ever-increasing Sound Transit taxes.

But Merritt goes astray at times by parroting the no-LNG hyperbole. (He was adopted by anti-fossil fuel activists after Evelyn Lopez lost in the primary election.) He’s also made some far-fetched claims; if elected, he says he could help deliver light-rail to Tacoma in five years, impossibly faster than Sound Transit’s 2030 timeline.

Even so, the homegrown architect and urban redevelopment maestro remains a formidable candidate eight years after he lost to Marilyn Strickland in a close mayor’s race.

Merritt, 70, has his fingerprints all over Tacoma’s biggest revitalization projects: the creation of the Union Station Historic District (and lead architect work on restoring and repurposing the iconic train station); city-friendly placement of the Interstate 705 spur; and preliminary design of the Highway 509 cable-stay bridge, to name a few.

Some accuse Merritt of taking too much credit, chiefly on the Point Ruston development; his involvement was limited to the master plan and public brainstorming period after Asarco shut down smelter operations. But there’s no doubt his vision and influence on Tacoma’s core will endure for generations.

Beyond his architectural legacy, the Fife High School and University of Washington alumnus has a long record of civic involvement, ranging from the Northend Neighborhood Council to the Chamber of Commerce and several service clubs.

Merritt often points to his achievements and public outreach efforts in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Indeed, those could prove useful touchtones should he be elected.

But our endorsement goes to Woodards, the candidate with the strongest potential to shape Tacoma going forward.

Checking their records

The TNT Editorial Board 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 Tacoma mayor, both candidates signed up for a background check and no red flags came up.

To see the full database, go online to Candidate<code_dp>Verification.org.