Ridgefield council race gets new life

Mayor, last-minute write-in candidate actively campaigning

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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photoRon Onslow Ridgefield mayor

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photoTim Wilson Write-in candidate for Ridgefield mayor

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With less than a week remaining before general election ballots are due, the race for Ridgefield Council Position 1 is becoming unexpectedly lively.

Tim Wilson, a Battle Ground police sergeant, announced earlier in the month his write-in candidacy against Mayor Ron Onslow for the incumbent's council spot. In Ridgefield, the mayor is selected from within city council. That means if Onslow loses his council position, his colleagues will have to replace him as mayor from within their ranks.

Both candidates have been actively campaigning since a website announcing Wilson's candidacy went live at the beginning of the month.

Onslow, a six-year city council veteran who was running unopposed before Wilson's announcement, is taking the competition in stride, even as his supporters work to resurrect a campaign they thought was in the bag.

Wilson's decision to run came as a surprise to Onslow, he said, considering the mayor had never seen the political newcomer at any city events.

"When I put out calls for volunteers, I never see him," Onslow said. "If he's running for a position on council, you would think he would involve himself on some things in the city."

He questioned how Wilson could know what the city needs if he doesn't show up for meetings or volunteer events.

Part of Wilson's prior reluctance to get involved in Ridgefield's political scene was because of his position as a sergeant for the Battle Ground Police Department, he said.

That changed last month.

The catalyst for Wilson's campaign was a vote Onslow cast at the Sept. 26 C-Tran Board of Directors meeting, allowing TriMet to use C-Tran's eminent domain authority to acquire land for a light-rail extension over the Columbia River Crossing, if the bridge is ever built. Onslow is an alternate on the 10-member board behind La Center Mayor Jim Irish, meaning he rarely votes. Irish did not attend the Sept. 26 meeting, so Onslow took his place.

The C-Tran board approved the controversial agreement with TriMet by one vote. Onslow said he and Irish discussed the vote before the meeting.

Wilson has said Onslow sold out Ridgefield residents to special interests from Portland.

Following the C-Tran meeting, opponents of the vote took aim at Onslow and his unopposed bid for re-election. Wilson's campaign has the backing of several Clark County Republicans, including state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, and state Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas. Benton has helped Wilson with door-to-door canvassing.

David Standal, a former Ridgefield city councilman currently running for freeholder, said he briefly contemplated a bid against Onslow and received the blessing of prominent Republicans to do so.

Standal chose not to proceed with a write-in campaign, saying Onslow brought "energy and charisma" to the council along with broad knowledge of city issues.

Although Standal said he was disappointed in Onslow's C-Tran vote, he has no plan to throw his support behind either candidate.

Despite his newcomer status, Wilson's campaign has a base backing it.

Christian Berrigan, the operations director for the Clark County Republican Party, is supporting the campaign by promoting sign-waving events and providing Wilson with information on registered voters.

The party hasn't formally voted to endorse a candidate, Berrigan said, and he's supporting Wilson independent of his role with the county GOP.

Meanwhile, Chuck Green, an Onslow ally, accused Wilson's campaign of being fronted by political operatives from outside Ridgefield who are opposed to the Columbia River Crossing.

"I think (Wilson's campaign) revolves around one issue, and I think it's retaliatory," he said. "I know (Onslow's) a mayor with more than one issue."

Among his accomplishments during his time serving as mayor, Onslow cites how the city has built trails and parks, cleaned up the cemetery and approved a joint sewer agreement with Battle Ground and Clark Regional Wastewater District. That agreement is intended to allow the city to grow its current sewer capacity beyond its current cap of 750,000 gallons a day.

Wilson disputed he's a one-issue candidate, or that he was formally courted by county Republicans to run.

He's said he, too, would focus on issues related to the city's sewer rates and business growth, if elected.

And while he has promised a coordinated effort on the campaign trail, Onslow's supporters have vowed to match it.

On Oct. 17, Wilson's campaign held a sign-waving event at a gas station off the Interstate 5 offramp. Onslow supporters countered Oct. 25, waving signs at intersections between the I-5 junction interchange and the Main Avenue and Pioneer Street intersection, covering roughly three miles.

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities;tyler.graf@columbian.com.