The sudden death of Everett City Councilmember Drew Nielsen broke the hearts of his family and friends, just as it opened a leadership vacuum at City Hall. All voices are equal on the council, but some voices are more equal than others.
Nielsen braided a 21st century vision of vibrant parks and a pedestrian-friendly downtown with a willingness to throw elbows and challenge the supine status quo. It’s a constructive-gadfly legacy that, to ensure Everett remains innovative and vital, must be preserved.
On May 30, the Everett City Council appointed Gigi Burke, an admired businesswoman and trustee at Everett Community College, to fill Nielsen’s seat until certification of the fall election (Burke opted not to run.) Five diverse, accomplished candidates appear on the Aug. 7 primary ballot to serve the remaining three years of Nielsen’s term, each teasing out varied themes as well as his or her own issue-specific bents.
Pete Kinch, a former Everett mayor and city councilmember, is focused on the development of the riverfront as well as the old Kimberly–Clark mill site on Port Gardner Bay. John Ott, a retired Everett police officer, emphasizes public safety and boosting family-wage jobs. Bill Paulen, a vice president and manager at American West Bank, is likewise focused on public safety and economic development.
Two candidates, Scott Bader, an attorney and Director of Parish Stewardship at the Archdiocese of Seattle, and June Robinson, a program manager with Public Health Seattle and King County, soar to the top. Both highlight the import of fiscal responsibility and public transit; both have run for and lost a race for city council; and, both have attracted and mobilized formidable community support.
The Herald recommends June Robinson, a seasoned human services’ practitioner and the candidate most likely to cleave to and emulate the Nielsen legacy. On issues such as open government, enhancing libraries, and sustainable development, Robinson reflects a Nielsen-style sensibility. She is also a resonant, independent voice, a counterforce to the (at times) insular, clubbish M.O. of municipal politics.
Robinson benefits from a background in affordable housing, having served as the executive director of the Housing Consortium of Everett and Snohomish County. It’s a valuable grounding. Any economic development strategy minus a mixed-use or affordable-housing component is de facto exclusionary, widening the gulf between Everett’s haves and have-nots.
The city’s Maginot line still rests at 41st Street. (Most Everett families live south of 41st.) South Everett is more low-income, more disconnected from civic life, and more plagued by sprawl than its wealthier, northern brother. Robinson and Bader both underscore the city’s obligation to mend the north-south divide and invest in south-end parks and human services. There is reason to be sanguine when that area with the most needs but least political muscle receives a long-overdue acknowledgment.
When Drew Nielsen’s voice fell silent, Everett became a poorer city. He was a shrewd, funny iconoclast who loved his hometown. While Nielsen can never be replaced, June Robinson could carry the banner and, we hope, give expression to his unfinished legacy.