If there were a prize for most people running for a single office in this 2019 Pierce County election, it would go to Lakewood, where six candidates compete for City Council Position 6, a spot left vacant by departing Councilwoman Marie Barth.
“Six for Six” may have a snappy ring, but it means Lakewood voters must choose from a half-dozen candidates, each able to articulate a passion for the city they call home.
In our estimation, Linda Farmer separates herself from the herd, in part because of her spot-on diagnosis of what ails the city: Lakewood, she told us, has “reputation issues.”
The one-time journalist didn’t break news with that assessment, but her long experience in public relations — she’s currently chief communications officer for the state Department of Enterprise Services — convinced us her expertise could be good for the city.
Farmer, 51, says she’s pursuing the council seat largely to see the ideas outlined in the city’s Comprehensive Plan come to fruition.
The 215-page document covers everything from stormwater to storefronts, with a focus on revitalizing Lakewood’s Business District. But it takes more than a plan to bring commercial and recreational opportunities. First the city must convince developers to make major investments.
Enter Farmer, who can clarify Lakewood’s problems, not gloss over them, and make a strong case for why the city of 60,000 is fertile ground for economic development. It’s an uphill climb, to be sure.
Lakewood is home to Western State Hospital, the state’s largest mental-health lockup and an institution so plagued with problems, the federal government pulled its annual funding of $53 million after it failed numerous inspections.
Certainly the uptick in adult family homes (98 total citywide; 46 in the Oakbrook neighborhood) hasn’t done the city’s reputation any favors — not with each new report of the state placing Level III predators in residential neighborhoods.
Another hard-to-ignore problem is the city’s stark rich-poor divide. Twenty percent of residents live below the poverty line set by the state. Lower-income residents scramble to find affordable housing while the affluent reside in some of the county’s most expensive real estate, complete with lakefront views.
Let’s face it, this city in transition could use some help — and Farmer is capable of much more than image polishing.
The self-described policy wonk has lived in the Oakbrook neighborhood 16 years. She served on the Pierce County Charter Review Commission in 2016; she came within 400 votes of winning a Pierce County Council seat later that year; and she got our attention by vowing to uphold core values of accountability and transparency.
Unfortunately, a crowd of six makes it hard for individual candidates to command attention. (Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson, by contrast, has no challengers and gets a free pass to reelection.)
The Position 6 contest will be Ria Johnson’s third attempt to earn the confidence of local voters. And while we admire the 35-year-old law office assistant’s tenacity and upbeat attitude, they don’t make up for a lack of knowledge on specific challenges facing Lakewood.
Wilbert Pina, 41, a Work First specialist for the state, would fight for equality for Lakewood’s poor and marginalized. But some of his ideas point to a misunderstanding of the role of a council member - not uncommon for a first-time office seeker.
Farmer’s most qualified opponents are Chas Ames, Malcolm Russell and Ken Witkoe, who’ve all paid their dues. Each has sat on Lakewood’s Public Safety Advisory Committee, and each can draw on a deep resume of volunteer work and civic experience.
Ames, 58, is a critic of Lakewood leadership who says he’d walk away after one term, while Russell, 52, and Witkoe, 58, would fit more naturally into the council mainstream.
We’re sticking with Farmer. This is the second time in three years we’ve endorsed her in a primary race. She’s clearly smart and ready to govern, and voters should give her the chance.