Vancouver City Council incumbent faces young challenger

Smith defends his service; Barnes says his approach better

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer



Larry Smith-Cory Barnes live chat

View a transcript of the live chat between Vancouver City Council candidates Larry Smith and Cory Barnes held on Oct. 25 at 5 p.m. on

Vancouver City Council Position 5

Cory Barnes

Age: 24.

Background: Store manager, Sutinen Consulting Inc. Republican campaign volunteer; 2008 and 2010 GOP convention delegate, served as county representative on state GOP Platform Committee in 2008 and served on county GOP Platform Committee in 2010. Active member in local “We the People” and “Campaign for Liberty.”

Funds Raised: $5,595.

Major Endorsements: Rep. Paul Harris; David Madore, U.S. Digital CEO; Michael Delavar and Jon Russell, Washougal city councilors.


Name: Larry Smith.

Age: 69.

Background: Retired. Vancouver city councilor since 2003 and mayor pro tem from 2010 to present. Former director of Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation; former Vancouver assistant city attorney; former real estate broker. Serves on C-Tran board; 40et8, Voiture 99 Military Society; statewide Association of Washington Cities Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; Rotary International.

Funds Raised: $18,644.

Major Endorsements: Building Industry Association of Clark County; Clark County Realtors Association; Central Labor Roundtable; Sierra Club; SW Washington State Electricians PAC No. 48; county commissioners Marc Boldt and Steve Stuart, state Reps. Ann Rivers, Jim Moeller, Sharon Wylie and Tim Probst; state Sen. Craig Pridemore; and Mayor Tim Leavitt.


Cory Barnes said he’s here to put Vancouver City Councilor Larry Smith on trial.

Barnes, a political newcomer, faces an uphill battle for Position 5 against Smith, who has been on the city council since 2003 and also serves as mayor pro tem.

But even if the ballots don’t break in his favor, Barnes said starting a discussion about the best ways to move the city forward is worthwhile.

“Because of the principles I have, I’m just trying to be politically active,” he said. “I represent a persuasion and an understanding of how things should be done.”

Smith, first elected in 2003, said he wants to stay on the city council because he’s convinced his skills and experience are well suited to help the city solve its challenges.

“The city has been good to me,” Smith said. “I look at it as my community service to pay back the community.”

The city council is a huge time commitment — beyond the Monday meetings, which often stretch from 4 p.m. to well after 9 p.m. — council members belong to other boards and committees and are expected to attend community events.

Though he works full time in Longview, Barnes said he will make it work.

“I will reprioritize to make the job of city council the priority of my life,” he said.

Barnes’ campaign took a hit this month when he was detained and cited in Washougal for speeding and driving with a suspended license. The citations followed a string of 11 other traffic infractions in Clark and Cowlitz counties over the last four years, with one additional charge of possession of drug paraphernalia from 2007. He took criticism from many of his supporters, including David Madore, who, along with his wife, Donna, have given $1,600 to his campaign.

“He’s still supporting me,” Barnes said. “We spent a few hours together and he forgave me for the mistakes I’ve made. It’s been a learning experience for me.”

Smith, on the other hand, is retired and has traded barbed words with Councilor Jeanne Harris recently about the large amount of time he spends at City Hall.

He’s raised the most money in any council race so far this year, despite feeling confident.

“If you don’t show a interest and involvement (in campaigning), people think you’re taking it for granted, that you’re taking the public for granted,” Smith said. “I want people to know Larry is committed to this — he’s raising money and he’s trying.”

Here’s where Smith and Barnes stand on several city issues as they vie for a job that pays $1,781 a month, plus health benefits (Smith, as mayor pro tem, makes $2,000 a month.)

Columbia River Crossing

The city council still can have a say in the Columbia River Crossing, said Smith — just not in the way that many see it.

While building a third bridge or charging no tolls are beyond the city council’s reach, there’s still much local elected officials can do.

“Certainly the way it’s managed — traffic patterns during construction and how we handle things like that,” Smith said. “We can help manage that process and make sure it’s as easy as possible on businesses downtown.”

He said he’s a supporter of the $3.1 billion plans for a new bridge, light rail into downtown Vancouver and seven highway interchange improvements on the Oregon and Washington sides of the Columbia River, and Smith pointed out that the project will create construction and related jobs. Politicians can advocate for fair tolls with the Legislature, he said.

Barnes said he’s against the CRC as it stands. He’d like to see more bridges, including a bridge to Gresham, Ore. that would take congestion off Interstate 205.

As for Smith and others’ assertions that the Legislature really holds the keys to the project at this point, Barnes said local officials can still shut it down.

“I have a bully pulpit to push for it,” he said. He believes serious change to the CRC could come “when we have the right majority, which is possible in this election.”

He called the possibility of putting the C-Tran light rail sales tax vote to a subdistrict instead of the entire service area “gerrymandering.” Smith is among three Vancouver council members on the C-Tran board who insisted on waiting to decide whether the vote is put before the entire transit district or a smaller slice of voters until the results of a study on bus rapid transit and light rail comes out at the end of this year.

Public-private ventures

Barnes’ and Smith’s starkest difference may come over public-private partnerships, such as the waterfront development, downtown parking garages and the Hilton Vancouver Washington.

Barnes said he’s staunchly against Vancouver working with developers to build road projects or other infrastructure to benefit a project. In the case of the waterfront — where Vancouver committed to do $40 million in road construction to lure a developer into building more than $1 billion in retail, office and housing — he said he hopes the plan works. But he still said that the project could have been launched differently.

“(Smith) has been supporting these types of proposals all along,” Barnes said. “Private enterprise and the free market are more than capable of taking care of those needs.”

He goes so far as to say while recreation centers like the Firstenburg Community Center are beneficial, he is against any such future ventures.

“You can call me anti-future Firstenburg,” he said.

The county’s proposed admissions tax to pay 30 percent of a new minor league baseball stadium rankles both Barnes and Smith.

“Most of those public-private partnerships, when they don’t go well, it’s because there’s that risk,” Smith said.

But in some cases, like the waterfront or Vancouvercenter, taking that risk rather than leaving a vacant lot or swath of real estate may be worth it, he said.

He pointed out that tax increment financing and other reserve funds can only be used for such projects, and added that many of those public-private deals were made in rosier financial times.

“You have to ask: Where is your risk threshold?” Smith said. “If you say ‘you shouldn’t be doing this,’ and ‘you shouldn’t be doing that’ — then where do you go?”

Attracting business

Vancouver and Portland are linked as a business region, and it’s important for the city council to not pretend that the city to the south doesn’t have a big impact on Vancouver, Smith said. At the same time, Portland also competes to attract businesses, he acknowledged.

“Jobs are always going to be a challenge,” he said.

But he said his fighting against reinstating the city’s business and occupation tax, which he called an “abusive tax,” has helped. SEH America’s purchase of the Hewlett-Packard site bodes well for future job creation, he said.

Barnes, however, said that there’s a lot more the city can do, starting with eliminating impact fees, despite the fact that they’re used to build roads for businesses.

“Instead of throwing lifelines to businesses, they’re throwing anchors,” Barnes said. “If you want businesses to come here, you can do it without building roads.”

He said the city should focus on maintaining what it has. Gas taxes should be used to build city roads, he argued. Vancouver does not have a city gas tax — it receives a portion of the state’s collection instead. He also said he’d seek to turn around Vancouver’s business charge of $50 per full-time employee.

“Those kinds of things make a difference,” Barnes said.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or or or