We endorse: Returning McCarthy to Tacoma City Council is easy call

Here are the candidates for the 2019 Tacoma City Council election

Here are the duties of Tacoma City Council members and the candidates for open seats in the 2019 election.
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Here are the duties of Tacoma City Council members and the candidates for open seats in the 2019 election.

Change is coming to Tacoma’s leadership ranks, with four City Council seats on the ballot this year and two of its most stout progressives — Ryan Mello and Anders Ibsen — on their way out due to term limits.

While three races will go directly to the November general election, Tacoma voters will make a first cut for an at-large position in the Aug. 6 primary.

Incumbent Conor McCarthy has earned a second term in Position 7. The 41-year-old Tacoma native is a determined, detail-oriented moderate with support across the ideological spectrum, and he wins our endorsement hands down.

An attorney who worked at City Hall before being elected to serve there in 2015, McCarthy showed his mettle early by crusading for 24-hour fire department coverage on the Tideflats. Reopening Station 5 was an important move to protect Port of Tacoma businesses, the Northwest Detention Center and the liquid natural gas plant now under construction.

McCarthy’s backing of the LNG plant doesn’t play well with constituents who oppose any fossil-fuel investments, but his commitment to make the facility safer shouldn’t be discounted.

The North End resident isn’t afraid to wave a caution flag on pet City Council projects, though sometimes he waves it alone. He called for an independent audit as a check to the council’s misguided “all in” plan to subsidize the Click cable network. He spoke out against a heavy-handed council appointment to the Tacoma Public Utility Board.

Even when McCarthy promotes dubious ideas (creating a task force that would further slow the city’s long-delayed plastic bag ban), he does it for defensible reasons (wanting to secure more public buy-in for a controversial plan).

No, he didn’t get his task force. Yes, he ultimately voted in favor of the bag ban.

Overall, McCarthy works effectively with council mates on priorities such as more public-safety funding — “I’ve learned to collaborate, not litigate,” he tells us — and has forged partnerships with other South Sound officials. He and Pierce County Councilman Derek Young are leaders of a local alliance focusing needed attention on the opioid drug crisis.

Also vying for Position 7 are two other native Tacomans: Brett Johnson, a former federal air traffic controller now running a woodworking business, and Courtney Love, who does piece work for a metalsmith.

Neither challenger has a record of public service to match McCarthy’s. Johnson, 37, has no elected experience at all; “one day I woke up and decided I wanted to run,” he told us.

Johnson’s desire to give back to his hometown is commendable, including involvement with Habitat for Humanity and the Eastside Neighborhood Council. But if he’s serious about city governance, he’d do well to start with an advisory board or commission.

Love, 42, is on the right track as a precinct committee officer, a post she took last year. As a single mother and the child of a single mother, she gives voice to the struggles of Tacoma neighborhoods where she’s lived.

But Love’s socialist background and “speak truth to power” agenda push her to the fringes of Tacoma politics, even for a City Council with a strong progressive streak.

One issue where she speaks clear truth is the housing affordability crisis in Tacoma and the growing gap between income and rent.

Indeed, the City Council only scratched the surface when it adopted an action strategy last year. Tax breaks for developers have achieved little; just 51 affordable housing units have been built over the last decade by multifamily developers who signed up for a city exemption program.

Tacoma’s homelessness plan is, at best, a work in progress. Taxpayers are spending $2.3 million this year on a Puyallup Avenue “stability site” that’s transitioned 80 people out of homelessness since it opened in 2017. The essential next step is short-term transitional housing, but city staff have deemed it “not a financially feasible or sustainable option.”

The cost of living in Tacoma may be the most complex problem that newly elected City Council members must tackle over the next four years.

Conor McCarthy has a good grasp of the complexities. Reelecting him will give the city a hard worker, critical thinker and respected leader for the daunting task ahead.