Everett council pauses to honor late colleague

EVERETT — They came with cellophane-wrapped bunches of yellow roses, red carnations, white daisies and purple hyacinths.

All were heaped beneath the dais under the name placard of Drew Nielsen, the City Councilman who died Saturday in a rafting accident.

“The city of Everett has suffered a tragic loss in the passing of Councilman Nielsen,” Mayor Ray Stephanson said. “He served faithfully with a great sense of duty for many, many years.”

After a moment of silence, most of what had been planned on the Everett City Council agenda Wednesday night was suspended so people could publicly share their grief. The council chambers were filled with people.

They shared about Nielsen’s integrity, intelligence and willingness to listen. They called him the “epitome of class” and “a reluctant politician” who did what needed to be done without the accoutrements of power.

Gail Chism of Everett said she’d heard about a move to name Northwest Park after Nielsen. That’s the neighborhood park Nielsen saved from becoming a parking lot.

Councilman Shannon Affholter said Nielsen’s death was a tremendous loss for the community.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for him,” he said.

This is the first time in the city’s history a sitting council member has died in office. The mechanics of how to fill his absence are grinding forward, even as people in the community grieve.

The timetable to fill Nielsen’s seat is moving fast because of Everett’s charter. It calls for an election this year.

In order to get candidates on the ballot, the auditor is accepting filings for the position until 5 p.m. Friday.

The winner would take office as soon as the election is certified and serve out the remaining three years of the term.

So far, three people have filed.

They include Pete Kinch, a former mayor from 1990 to 1994 who was unseated by Ed Hansen.

He’s now executive director of the Everett nonprofit Hands for Peacemaking.

Another is Scott Bader, the candidate who ran unsuccessfully for Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher’s seat last fall. He’s employed by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle.

The third is Gigi Burke, former owner of Crown Distributing, who sits on various boards, including the Public Facilities Board of Comcast Arena and the Board of Trustees at Everett Community College.

“We are all still in shock,” Burke said in a phone interview Wednesday. “It doesn’t feel right to me to be filing but there’s a deadline and an obligation to fill the spot.”

In the interim, the City Council may appoint someone to fill Nielsen’s seat.

Debra Smith: 425-339-3197; dsmith@heraldnet.com.

Public service

The public is invited to attend a memorial service for Drew Nielsen, scheduled for noon to 2 p.m. Sunday at the Weyerhaeuser Room of the Everett Transit Station, 3201 Smith Ave.

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