Too bad City Council is limited to only one person in Position #3 because I liked all the candidates at tonight's debate at the Mercer Island Library. The place was packed--standing room only--full of various people associated with Mercer Island politics: I saw former mayor Jim Horn, candidate Patti Darling, councilman Steve Litzow, and zillions of seniors. I'm not sure why Maureen Judge wasn't there, but it was just as well: as a relatively recent Island resident, she would have felt out of place next to all the old-timers.
Calling it a "debate" is a bit much, since there wasn't much disagreement, and members of the audience weren't able to ask questions. The Mercer Island Republican Women who sponsored the evening kept all questions pretty uncontroversial. Who's going to disagree about funding for fire trucks, or the need to maintain Mercerdale Park?
The only question with much spark was the one about PEAK, which surprised me since the PEAK advocates talk as though the project is a done deal. Mike Cero clearly won this part of the debate, rattling off statistics about the high cost and impact on the neighborhood when the Council starts giving away impervious surface and other exceptions to land use codes. Bob Bersos piled on, reminding everyone that part of the deal includes reverting the current Boys and Girls Club site to private developers, ceding one of the last open spaces on the island to home construction. Jon Friedman's answers, by contrast, were non-specific and general: PEAK is about kids and I support kids.
Friedman did much better on the Renton Airport question, reminding everyone that he's a licensed pilot and then listing off a bunch of facts that affect the issue (for example, I didn't know that Boeing Field is a busier airport than SEATAC). Cero's answers were more process-oriented and less specific, though he did sneak in the best sound bite of the evening when the subject shifted to overall land use issues: Mercer Island "will get affordable housing if the Renton Airport expansion goes through". Bersos' answers amounted to: we have to work with everyone but if they cause harm to Mercer Island I'll fight.
So who won? I liked each candidate for different reasons, but here's how I would summarize their differences:
- Mike Cero is the most strategic. He answers all questions by reminding everyone of the overall context, of the need to look outside the obvious and ensure the city has the right processes in place regardless of the solution.
- Jon Friedman is a good tactician. If it's something related to his personal expertise, he rolls up his sleeves and pulls out the answer. If it's outside his experience as a home developer or pilot, he'll rely on his friendships with other businessmen or councilmen.
- Bob Bersos is a normal guy. He doesn't dress in a suit, doesn't run a fancy campaign, and just wants to do the right thing.
Ultimately the August 21st primary election will come down to voter turnout. I think Mike Cero will do best among school age families and senior citizens -- people who relate best to his process-oriented and everyone-is-equal approach. Jon Friedman will appeal to the waterfront property owners and downtown business types who like his hands-on instincts. Bob Bersos will do well among his many personal friends and anybody who knows him as a regular guy. Maureen Judge will win nationally among those who want Mercer Island to focus on pressing international issues like Global Warming and reproductive rights.
How about you? How will you vote?