Three of the candidates running for an open Vancouver City Council seat this year share a lot of the same opinions. So instead of spending their conversation with The Columbian’s Editorial Board drawing contrasts between their goals for the city, they focused on a different angle — why they’re the best candidate to accomplish them.
Kim Harless Felix, John Blom and Mike Pond are running for Vancouver City Council’s Position 1 seat. A fourth candidate, Justin Forsman, was disinvited to the meeting with the editorial board after repeatedly violating The Columbian’s online commenting policies.
Each of the three candidates interviewed by the editorial board has a history of holding or seeking elected office.
Harless Felix is co-chair of the Clark County Charter Review Commission and serves on several nonprofits and local organizations, including Southwest Washington’s League of United Latin American Citizens.
Blom spent four years on the Clark County Council.
Pond, who ran for city council once before, has worked on multiple state and local campaigns and also chairs the Young Democrats of Clark County.
All three are closely aligned on most major issues. They think the city can and should do more to combat climate change, they believe that Vancouver needs a more robust and thoughtful approach to housing and homelessness, and they support the plan to launch a body-worn camera program in the Vancouver Police Department.
Their lived experiences, however, look very different.
Pond highlighted his youth (33) and his status as a renter on the east side of the city.
“I’m a renter. Over 50 percent of the city are renters; over 50 percent of them are rent-burdened,” Pond said, citing an affordability metric used to calculate how many people are spending more than a third of their income on rent. “I think that’s an important perspective as we address the biggest issue in the city.”
He also pointed to the relationships he’s developed over years plugged into local politics, working on campaigns for elected officials like former state Rep. Jim Moeller and current Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle.
“It’s really been a privilege for me to work to get the right people in the right positions to move our community forward,” Pond said.
Harless Felix earned a degree in environmental science from Washington State University Vancouver and spent nine years as an environmental operations specialist for Clark County Public Health. Her expertise on environmental issues would be put to good use in council chambers, she said.
“I know the technicalities, and this is something we don’t have on our current council,” Harless Felix said.
She also pointed to her life as a person of color in Vancouver — Harless Felix is Hispanic and Indigenous — who’s struggled with poverty, adding that Vancouver hasn’t elected a councilor of color since the 1970s. She’s nearly fallen into homelessness several times, she said.
“I think it is so crucial that someone who’s actually experienced these things is in a position of power,” Harless Felix said. “This is not a political career for me. This is something I’m doing for the community.”
Blom, a residential real estate broker, said that his professional experience in the private sector provides much-needed context for an elected official, especially in a city that’s growing as rapidly as Vancouver. He’s the candidate who understands “how communities actually get created,” he said.
“I’m the only one who has experience in working in the development world,” Blom said. “It’s really easy to say we need this, this and this, but if you don’t understand the impact that has on the ground, it creates challenges.”
Blom also pointed to his history on the Clark County Council — after serving four years as a Republican, he dropped his party affiliation, claiming that local issues shouldn’t be explicitly partisan positions. He lost his reelection bid as an independent.
“The decisions that we make over the next year or four years are going to shape what (Vancouver) looks like in the years ahead,” Blom said. “I built a reputation of being a pragmatic problem solver.”
The Position 1 seat is currently occupied by Laurie Lebowsky, who won’t seek reelection.
Harless Felix, Blom, Pond and Forsman all appear on the Aug. 3 primary election ballot. Voters should have received their ballots in the mail by Wednesday, July 21.