Two of the candidates running for mayor of Vancouver this year offered voters a drastically different pitch in a conversation with The Columbian Editorial Board.
The incumbent, Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, stayed focused on local issues, pointing to the city’s programs to carry businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic, its push to refocus its homelessness strategy and efforts to find new ways to communicate with residents.
“We made it through the pandemic, we made it through the recession, political unrest for racial justice, and I worked diligently to keep Vancouver moving forward,” McEnerny-Ogle said. “We are a thriving community. People are jumping at every opportunity to come and be with us.”
Her challenger, Doug Coop, fielded questions from the board members with more of an emphasis on state and national issues. A self-described “America first candidate,” he said he believed that climate change is a hoax, that the COVID-19 pandemic was overblown and that the state’s shutdown orders were unconstitutional.
“That edict was unconstitutional, No. 1, most important, because the businesses have a choice,” Coop said. “(Gov. Jay Inslee) does not arbitrarily have the right to keep businesses shut down, to keep churches shut down.
“I’ll call it more of a scam-demic,” Coop added. Asked if he believed the pandemic was a hoax, Coop said no.
“There’s an actual virus that was created in a lab in Wuhan. … But it’s not that tragic,” Coop said. “Media, political figures. They’ve used this to their advantage.”
McEnerny-Ogle kept her comments more granular, focusing on the specific citywide programs that kicked into gear when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Vancouver played an instrumental role alongside Clark County in setting up the no-barrier public vaccination and testing site at Tower Mall, she pointed out.
Under her leadership, Vancouver also advanced a new program that lets restaurants set up additional seating in vacant parking spaces, McEnerny-Ogle added.
“We’re continuing to recover, but the city jumped in with all of our resources to help,” she said.
On homelessness, the candidates also hold different points of view. Asked whether they supported a new program that would establish supported campsites throughout the city — limited, fenced camping grounds with trash, sanitation and health support — McEnerny-Ogle and Coop disagreed.
Coop likened the idea to “keeping people in concentration camps.”
“I’m not for setting up more campsites around neighborhoods,” he said. “I’m for intervention.”
Asked to elaborate on what intervention would look like, Coop said he’d like to rally the city’s faith, business and medical leaders to meet with Vancouver’s unhoused population one by one.
“Putting the money to use to help these people individually,” Coop said.
McEnerny-Ogle said she backs the supported-campsite idea, brought to city council in May by Jamie Spinelli, Vancouver’s homeless resources coordinator. The camps would be operated by a nonprofit contractor and provide a better chance to connect people with health and housing services, she said.
“We would have the opportunity to work with those individuals to get them into more permanent housing,” McEnerny-Ogle said.
The final main point of discussion, climate change, also revealed major daylight between the two candidates.
The incumbent focused on the city’s ongoing work to create a new climate action plan, a topic expected to come back before the city council later this summer. City leaders are looking for opportunities to reduce Vancouver’s environmental footprint after a 2019 audit of emissions showed that vehicle transportation and air travel make up nearly half of the city’s output.
“What can we do with our own opportunities, with our construction that’s coming up?” McEnerny-Ogle asked. “We’re right at the beginning on this.”
Coop said he does not believe human activity contributes to climate change and that he would not pursue a climate action plan.
“You have these cycles throughout history. What are you going to do about the Dust Bowl?” he asked.
A third candidate running for mayor, Earl Bowerman, was invited to participate in the editorial board meeting but declined.