When family, work get a little too close

By Bob Bolerjack

Before I applied to become this newspaper’s editorial page editor in 2002, I asked my predecessor if the job had a downside.

None were apparent to me. After nearly 15 years working in The Herald’s news and sports departments, it seemed like a dream job — weighing in on the issues of the day and, if done well, maybe even making a positive difference.

“Elections, maybe,” he shrugged.

Funny, I thought that would be one of the highlights. I’d been glued to state and national politics for as long as I could remember, mostly from a distance. (I did volunteer for Dan Evans’ third gubernatorial campaign in 1972.) Watching the national party conventions was a family tradition growing up, one that I had continued as a father.

Now, if I landed this job, I’d get to interview candidates seeking the editorial board’s endorsement. I’d be able to put them on the spot, judge with my fellow board members whether they really had game, and share our observations with you — offering another point of view as you make your own judgments.

And the downside of this would be … ?

I don’t even recall his reasoning, exactly. Probably, it was the draining nature of election season, when candidates seem to come in and out of our offices on a conveyer belt. The scheduling and rescheduling can get tedious, the talking points repetitive. Sometimes, the back-and-forth between opposing candidates gets petty.

Overall, though, I find it exhilarating. Whether it’s a city council race or a contest for a seat in Congress, I love interacting with candidates — the vast majority of whom are bright and earnest, wanting more than anything to make their own positive difference.

So I’m going to miss being part of the endorsement process for the current opening on the Snohomish County Council, the one created when Mike Cooper became the mayor of Edmonds last week.

It’s important for you to know that I’m recusing myself from the process because my son, Randy, is employed by one of the candidates, Edmonds City Council member D.J. Wilson. Randy works as an associate for Wilson’s firm, Wilson Strategic Communications, and is helping his boss campaign for the County Council appointment.

(Democratic precinct committee officers from the 3rd Council District are scheduled to meet Saturday to choose a slate of three candidates. The current members of the County Council will pick one from that list, as early as next week. Along with Wilson, Lynnwood City Council member Stephanie Wright and Lynnwood community activist Maria Ambalada are seeking the appointment to fill the remaining 17 months of Cooper’s term.)

Randy also serves as an officer for the Young Democrats of Washington, and is currently president of the Snohomish County Young Democrats.

Just as a judge would recuse himself from a case involving a family member, I’m sitting out this endorsement process to avoid any appearance of favoritism. In a race for office involving my son’s employer, I’m too close. While the other three members of the editorial board interview the candidates next week and choose one to endorse, I’ll be on vacation.

Is this an awkward situation for me? Sure, a little. But it’s also gratifying for my wife and me to see our son (he’s 24) growing professionally, and doing so close to home. I’m proud of him, and like most parents, would never dream of standing in the way of his growth.

Still, my professional allegiance is to you, the reader. My job is to provide you with a daily forum you can count on for fairness and integrity. If even the appearance of that is compromised, I can’t do it effectively.

For the record, my own politics are neither Democratic nor Republican. They’re best described as stubbornly independent. (Annoyingly so, some friends would say. Easy answers never satisfy me.) Candidates who toe a party line win no favor with me; those who demonstrate courage and independence usually do. Party leaders surely dislike the consistent stand this editorial board has taken in favor of Washington’s top-two primary format, enacted by voters who cherish Washington’s long history of political independence.

Randy and I have agreed to ground rules that limit what we discuss with each other. Specifics about his political activities are out of bounds, as are any local political insights I gain through my daily work. That will let me keep spending quality time with him, while continuing to do my best for you.

Editorial Page Editor Bob Bolerjack: bbolerjack@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3466.