Topper leads Stewart in dollars in Vancouver council race

Incumbent councilor benefits from support of conservative group

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

 

Vancouver City Councilor Jeanne Stewart has benefitted from a conservative political committee in her bid for a fourth term, while her challenger, Alishia Topper, has raised nearly four times as much money and received endorsements from the city's police guild and fire union.

Stewart said her most important endorsement has been from voters, who elected her in 2001, '05 and '09.

The Clark County Republican Party, having taken control of the Board of County Commissioners, has its sights set on a majority of the seven-member city council.

While county seats are partisan — currently occupied by Republicans David Madore and Tom Mielke and Democrat Steve Stuart — city council seats are nonpartisan.

Stewart said it's "nonsense" to consider any race nonpartisan and said Democrats use sign placement to promote a slate of candidates.

At the same time, she doesn't like being part of the slate of candidates featured in fliers and a television ad by Vancouver Vitality, a political committee which has spent approximately $35,000, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.

The fliers urge people to vote for Stewart, Councilor Bill Turlay, who is running against Mayor Tim Leavitt, and Frank Decker and Micheline Doan.

Decker and Doan are running against Anne McEnerny-Ogle and Councilor Jack Burkman, respectively.

Stewart attends Republican events -- "The Democrats don't invite me," she said -- but considers herself an independent.

"I'm not part of anyone else's team or anyone else's slate. And I never have been," she said.

One Vancouver Vitality flier claims Topper was handpicked to support special interests, which Topper calls a "flat-out lie."

Topper said she was encouraged to run for the council by friends after dinner party talk one night turned to the divisiveness found at all levels of politics, and she said she consulted close friends and family members before letting any current members of the council know about her plans.

In the Aug. 6 primary, Stewart received 40 percent, Topper received 32 percent and Ty Stober was eliminated.

Topper's top donors include Robert Byrd, owner of Pacific Die Casting Corp., the Southwest Washington Central Labor Council, Steve and Jo Marie Hansen, who were named Philanthropists of the Year in 2012 by the Community Foundation of Southwest Washington, and George Killian, president of Killian Pacific.

Vancouver Vitality's primary source of money has come from Kanati Falls Ranch, a timber-management company that gave the committee a $20,000 loan and a $5,000 donation. The Washougal company, which was a top donor to anti-Columbia River Crossing lobbying efforts, lists Nancy Engleman as the registered agent. Mark Engleman of the I-5 Project (the organization that hired a group of lobbyists to fight the CRC) and a precinct committee officer for the Clark County Republican Party, is listed as a another donor. Hudson's Bay Industries, a manufacturing company that lists Randal Wilson as president and Tracy Wilson as vice president, gave $5,000 to Vancouver Vitality. Tracy Wilson is the husband of Lynda Wilson, chairwoman of the Clark County Republican Party.

Budget challenges

Both candidates listed finding funding solutions for public safety and street maintenance as the city's biggest budget challenges and agree that the city's budget has been carefully trimmed.

Since 2008, the city has cut staff positions by approximately 20 percent, and the 2013-14 biennial budget was down 12 percent from the 2009-10 budget of $857.3 million.

City Manager Eric Holmes and the council have "created and implemented a good set of priorities and funded those as appropriately as possible in this time of recession and reduced revenue," Stewart wrote in response to questions from The Columbian.

Topper wrote that the city has "a good balance of services that meet the needs of its diverse population. Not every resident is going to use or need every service, but as a city, I believe we do a good job of balancing the needs of our residents."

Councilors typically meet four times a month to make policy decisions, such as setting spending priorities and approving the budget, while Holmes handles the day-to-day management of city government.

City councilors currently earn $1,781 a month and receive health benefits.

As to the controversial topic fueling much of the divisiveness in local politics -- The columbia River Crossing -- Stewart wants a project that "would provide substantially more capacity for crossing the Columbia River and connecting our adjoining cities and counties," she wrote. She feels the current CRC, a revised $2.7 billion effort with Oregon at the helm, will make traffic in the Interstate 5 corridor worse over the next five to 10 years.

"The cost in misery to our citizens, the cost of tolls to our citizens, the cost of light-rail capital and maintenance and operation, which will all be perpetual, these costs are not worth the outcome for our citizens," Stewart wrote.

Topper supports the CRC.

"And while it isn't a perfect project, it is a project we need, that will replace an I-5 Bridge that is chronically congested and dangerous to drive on and seismically unsafe," Topper wrote. "We need to do the work now to address continued congestion of the future, and also eliminate the bridge lifts that impede commerce and bring traffic to a standstill."

The city of Vancouver's role in the CRC would be issuing permits for the work, although the city council does have three seats on the C-Tran Board of Directors.

In August, a Clark County Superior Court judge struck down an initiative proposed by CRC opponents to limit the city from using any resources to promote light rail. Judge John Nichols ruled a local initiative cannot interfere with a state's authority to compel a city to comply with a state project.