Press Talk: Deliberate Stewart is out

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

Published:

 
photoLou Brancaccio, Columbian editor, spent his college years in a Swamp.

A few years ago we had a 6-foot-8-inch reporter whom everyone assumed would be a stellar hoops player in our pickup games. He was an excellent writer but I had my doubts about his basketball prowess. He was slow and plodding when he moved about the newsroom.

So one day I asked another reporter — who often played with my friend — how the big guy looked on the court.

He smiled, waited a few seconds and responded.

"Deliberate."

I thought about that politically correct answer when I wandered into a Vancouver City Council meeting earlier this week.

I admit I don't get to many of these, although I do watch them on TV when I'm having trouble sleeping. But on this evening I was there to listen to Councilor Jeanne Stewart.

Stewart — who has been in this role for more than a decade — had just gotten whupped by newcomer Alishia Topper.

I felt I saw it coming. I suggested in a column right before the election that Stewart was being out-hustled by Topper and if voters were looking for a fresh perspective she could be in trouble.

When you watch Stewart you might agree that she is, ah, deliberate. Now maybe that plays well as a councilor. Maybe. But as a candidate running for office, I suspect it's trouble.

Regardless, I was curious what Stewart thought of the election. She's been very, very, very quiet since her defeat. This is one step beyond deliberate. This is mum.

My chance to possibly hear her election views would come at the end of the meeting, when every councilor gets a chance to say something. (Think of it as what we all used to do in class when it was "show-and-tell" time.)

Well I was wrong. Her election mumness continued.

But as luck would have it, I ran into Stewart in the hallway as everyone was leaving.

"Councilor," I say, "can I talk to you about the election?"

"What about the election?" she responds.

"Well, you know, your thoughts about how it went."

Then there was this long uncomfortable pause. I'm used to uncomfortable. You don't become a journalist if you're not comfortable with uncomfortable.

"I think you had an agenda," she tells me.

The conversation went downhill from there.

I won't go into detail, but it's fair to say she hasn't been enjoying our coverage. She also has a particular dislike for our national award-winning political blog, All Politics Is Local. Clearly, she was saying we were a player in her demise.

"So are you blaming us for your loss?"

She thought about that direct question for some time.

"You guys are something."

And she was gone.

What really happened?

Look, I believe in the power of the press. So I would never pretend that what we do doesn't have an impact on political races. It does. Period.

But our coverage is a reflection of who politicians are, what they do, how they act. Blaming the messenger — the newspaper — is an age-old political trick. Most readers see right through that excuse.

So what else was at play here other than her deliberate approach to campaigning and being out-hustled? Yep, Clark County Commissioner David Madore. Not many people may have realized this, but Stewart had planned to run against Mayor Tim Leavitt. Everything was falling into place for that to happen. But she needed a "good" Madore in her corner. What she got was a "bad" Madore.

Stuff, you see, suddenly fell apart for Madore in his role as commissioner. Many in the public turned against him because he failed to listen to my "Don't do stupid stuff" advice. Stewart knew a close association with Madore was toxic. So without the "good" Madore, she abandoned her run for mayor at the last minute. Still, she hoped she could hang on as a councilor. But even an indirect tie to Madore — which she still had — was toxic. And she was finished.

I like Stewart. Still do. She was an important voice in opposition to the majority at the council. There will be less of that opposition now. I hope Stewart stays involved in our community. She has much to offer. Deliberate or otherwise.