The race for Vancouver City Council is anything but traditional.
Incumbent Laurie Lebowsky is running to retain her seat, but she’s been in office for only a year.
She’s up against Sarah Fox for the second time.
To backtrack a little, Position 1 has been in flux for more than a year. The seat was held by Jack Burkman, who sought retirement instead of re-election. Businessman and civic supporter Scott Campbell entered the race but died in September 2017. When he was elected posthumously, it left the council to choose a successor until the next general election.
The process netted 56 applicants, including Lebowsky and Fox. After interviews and discussion, a majority of the council selected Lebowsky.
• Laurie Lebowsky: IAFF Local 452 Vancouver Firefighters; Clark County Association of Realtors; former city council members Pat Jollota and Larry Smith.
• Sarah Fox: Former Mayor Royce Pollard; former city council member Jack Burkman; state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver.
In the primary, Lebowsky and Fox finished in the top two, advancing to the general election.
Since then, they have been learning the ins and outs of running a campaign. Both are first-time candidates. Both are also professional land-use planners — Lebowsky with Clark County and Fox with the city of Camas.
“I try to just go out to as many doors as possible and go out to events in the community, which I enjoy very much, and just meet as many people and talk to as many people as I can,” Lebowsky said. “It’s listening. I go back to it about holding myself and the city accountable to its citizens. I think transparency and listening is essential to my work.”
Fox said she too has spent the last two months trying to reach as many citizens as possible. That includes reaching out to neighborhood associations, local political organizations, Vancouver businesses and the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce.
“They all know I’m an independent and very open to representing all of Vancouver,” Fox said. “In my mind, that really tells you a lot about our community and the people of our community. I say when it comes to Clark County issues I don’t see a dividing line between political parties. We’re all just working together to make the best Vancouver that we can.”
Both cited affordable housing and the need for a new Interstate 5 bridge as leading concerns they hear from residents.
Lebowsky said she recently heard from a Vancouver teacher who works three jobs just to afford a $1,500-a-month rental.
“We need more housing for all levels of income in our community,” she said. “I hear that from people over and over again.”
Fox shared similar concerns, adding that residents all over the city are struggling to find and keep housing.
She was also critical of the council’s recent decision to grant a multi-family tax exemption for the Providence Academy. Instead of providing affordable housing as a condition for tax abatement, the project will provide a public park.
“I don’t necessarily feel a public park on the site was fulfilling that mission, our immediate mission of affordable housing,” Fox said.
Looking at transportation, Lebowsky said that if she retains her seat, she’s interested at looking more at how transportation systems work in conjunction with communities.
“I’m thinking specifically of Fourth Plain,” Lebowsky said. She wants to monitor the corridor for potential impact as a result of reconfiguration taking place on state Highway 500.
“I would advocate for finding ways to address putting improvement there for pedestrian safety,” she added. “Especially with the success of The Vine, let’s build on that success.”
Fox also commended the work at Fourth Plain and hopes to build on the project in other parts of Vancouver if elected. She added that the council needs to focus more on representing diversity, whether it’s geography, ethnicity or ability.
“I think the main focus is really being the representative that brings a more diverse group of people together to solve our issues,” Fox said.