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News / Politics / Election

Vancouver City Council race comes down to the wire

7 candidates seeking Pos. 6 seat on Vancouver council campaign with determination as primary nears

By Calley Hair, Columbian staff writer
Published: August 3, 2019, 6:01am
12 Photos
Adam Aguilera, center in gray jacket, chats with voters at River Maiden on Tuesday morning. Aguilera’s one of seven seeking the Position 6 seat on the Vancouver City Council.
Adam Aguilera, center in gray jacket, chats with voters at River Maiden on Tuesday morning. Aguilera’s one of seven seeking the Position 6 seat on the Vancouver City Council. Amanda Cowan/The Columbian Photo Gallery

It was one week until the primary election, and the candidates for Vancouver City Council Position 6 were busy.

Busy canvassing. Busy holding meet-and-greets over coffee in the morning, and beer in the evening. Busy preaching to church services and visiting voters’ homes and fundraising and coordinating phone calls and posting to social media and waving signs and just generally trying to do something — anything — to distinguish themselves from the pack.

It’s no easy feat. On Tuesday, Vancouver’s voters will whittle seven Position 6 primary candidates down to two. Taken together, the group makes a deep bench, with a broad spectrum of ages, backgrounds and demographics represented — but with surprisingly uniform opinions about the most important issues facing the city.

Being able to choose from seven candidates, of course, is great news for Vancouver’s voters. But it’s bad news for five of the candidates on Tuesday.


Aguilera: $16,476.82

Perez: $15,451.95

Pond: $14,282.81

Montague: $6,269.08

Stewart: $6,000.00

Fox: $4,719.34

Singeorzan: None reported

All figures as of 4:30 p.m. Friday

Campaign finance details can be found at pdc.wa.gov/browse/current-candidate-campaigns

‘Trying not to get lost’

Mike Pond, one of the candidates who spent Thursday afternoon doorbelling and sweating his way through the Arnada neighborhood in sweltering August heat, called the campaign “a seven-way arms race,” with no clear frontrunner.

“There’s no polling,” he said. “There’s no data to show what’s working and what’s not, what’s reaching voters and what’s not.”

At just 31, the progressive Pond is the youngest in the race. It’d be easy to paint him as an idealist, but he’s not, really — of the candidates, he talks most openly about strategy. He’s a market specialist by trade and spent the last several years working and volunteering on state and local campaigns for candidates like Jim Moeller and Anne McEnerny-Ogle. Pins from each decorate his “battle armor” hat, he said, which belonged to his grandfather.

“Doors, phones and dollars. That’s the priority,” Pond said. “(The campaign’s) been exactly what I expected. That didn’t make it any easier — it’s been a labor of love.”

The upside of such a crowded primary? Nobody has enough room in the conversation to go negative.

“Because there’s seven of us, there’s no time to talk about anybody else,” Pond said. “You’re just trying not to get lost.”

Surrounded by a dozen supporters at Victor 23 Brewing on Wednesday evening, candidate Sarah Fox said the key to campaigning is knowing how to balance your long-term goals with your short-term ones.

The Army veteran and urban planner has run for city council before, and she has struggled with the nuts and bolts of launching a bid. This time around, she said, she was prepared. She started attending neighborhood meetings months ago, and has been to at least 20.

Now, she knows what can realistically be done in the final week, especially as a parent with a full-time job. There’s less of a scramble.

“Last year, I felt like I was in reaction mode for everything,” she said, sipping her beer. A car drove by and beeped its horn at her campaign sign, hanging off the patio railing. She smiled.

“Guess that’s a vote,” she said.

There’s two kinds of politicians, Fox said. There’s the extroverted types, who feel comfortable shooting from the hip on any topic, and introverts who want to research before reacting. She’s the latter, she says, which means her personality isn’t one of a natural campaigner, but she thinks it would make her a good decision-maker on the council.

“I have a broad base of experience. I’ve been hoping I get that message across,” she said. “I know enough to know when something’s really complicated.”

Carving out a space

In a seven-way race, there’s no such thing as a guaranteed spot in the general election. But if there was such a spot, a betting person would put their money on Jeanne Stewart.

People know Stewart. She served 12 years on the city council, and after that as a Republican member of the Clark County Council. She’s had her name on some ballot in most local elections since 1999. In that way, she has a leg up — she doesn’t have to do the laborious work of her competitors, getting a new name in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

She also has the benefit of being the most well-known conservative running in a purple city, and while city council races aren’t partisan, a lot of voters are. At least three candidates are openly progressive (and endorsed as such), and voters looking for that in a councilor will likely choose between Pond, Diana Perez and Adam Aguilera, a trio that’s also been neck-and-neck in fundraising.

Stewart’s main conservative challenger is Dorel Singeorzan, a newcomer to politics who campaigns primarily at religious services and has reported no fundraising dollars.

On Tuesday evening, Singeorzan spoke before a congregation at Vancouver’s Smirna Christian Church. A pastor at a church in Portland, he spoke about how being a man of God and a politician can and should coexist.

“Our founding fathers said, ‘In God we trust,’ and we need to believe that,” Singeorzan said. “I think we can do some great things for our city.”

Tree ordinances, zoning

The next day, Stewart went to a small backyard gathering at a neighborhood in east Vancouver. She’d been invited to the meet-up by Kenneth and Beverly Tyler, who had lived in the home for decades and were worried about an apartment complex planned for the lot adjacent to their property.

The 260-unit, 500-parking space development would knock out mature cedars and butt up against their property lines, potentially changing the character of their quiet residential neighborhood.

“If anyone can advise or help us with this, I think Jeanne is the person to go to,” said Beverly Tyler, sipping on the ice tea she’d put out for Stewart and a half-dozen neighbors.

“Our property values are going to drop like a rock. We have no recourse, it seems,” Kenneth Tyler said.

When Stewart arrived, she led an in-the-weeds policy discussion about zoning, tree ordinances, traffic plans, setbacks and municipal code changes dating back to 1997.

“They’ve combined some of the codes for development. I only know that because I have a few questions about it,” Stewart said.

She said she’s worried that the current city council’s push for more affordable housing options, like this new development, is pushing people like the Tylers out of their existing affordable housing.

“I see this happening to neighborhoods all around,” Stewart said.

Holding onto housing

Affordable housing, most of the seven candidates agree, is the most important issue facing Vancouver, and the one they hear about most often at the door while canvassing.

But Aguilera, a teacher at Heritage High School and union board member, makes it personal; while campaigning, he often talks about how the number of homeless kids in his classroom has increased over the years.

During a “Coffee with Adam” meet-and-greet at River Maiden coffee shop on Tuesday morning, Aguilera’s personal campaigning style was on display. He’s highly prepared and deeply earnest — not one for off-the-cuff comments.

He fielded a few questions at the coffee shop about housing, transportation and a recent series of police-involved shootings.

“There was a general consensus that the public wanted to pursue body cams and dash cams,” Aguilera said, adding that council has an obligation to follow through on that consensus.

“In terms of how policy is going to be developed, that’s going to require stakeholders.”

After the coffeehouse event, Aguilera said that he’s seeking a spot on the city council instead of the school board because he wants to impact Vancouver more broadly.

“I have spent my career in public service. I am also a small-business owner. I am an active member of the community where I stand up for people’s jobs, where they have a living wage. That I’m not afraid to speak out in the community about what is right,” Aguilera said.

And he’s everywhere, he added — city council, school boards, neighborhood meetings, vigils, community concerts.

“When I show up, people notice that,” he said.

Jobs, roads and equity

Candidate Paul Montague had a scheduling conflict for the week leading up to the primary and was unable to campaign, he said.

In past interviews with The Columbian, he’s emphasized jobs as his No. 1 priority. His website reflects that, and touches on transportation, small-business development and attracting new employers as his top issues.

“I believe our infrastructure, our roads, the bridge, the Columbia River Crossing as a starting point, are exceedingly important to the economic future of our community,” he told The Columbian back in May.

His website doesn’t mention housing — an anomaly in the race.

Candidate Diana Perez said she’s canvassed all over the city, and people in different regions want to talk about different topics. But she says conversations about housing, and its affordability or lack thereof, are everywhere.

Perez is a founder of the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, and she is campaigning on bringing an “equity lens” to the council — the idea that the city council should better represent all the city’s diverse population.

“It was time to run,” she said at a Tuesday meet-and-greet event at Javier Navarro’s State Farm Insurance office. “I had been thinking about it for a while, but it was such unchartered territory for me.”

At the event, Perez chatted amicably in Spanish with constituents. The Fourth Plain office shares a parking lot with a multicultural group of businesses, including Novedades Lizy, Mercado Latino and Sorya Asian Market.

Perez said that throughout her campaign, she heard from people in oft-overlooked central Vancouver that they finally felt like someone at City Hall might care about them.

City councilors, she said, need to do a better job reaching a wider range of residents, and Perez thinks she’s the woman for the job.

“They really need to make themselves accessible,” Perez said. “And be able to hear the bad, the good and the ugly, and hear that as a gift. That’s why we’re public servants.”

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Columbian staff writer