Commissioner incumbents for Island County leading

By BRIAN KELLY

Herald Writer

COUPEVILLE — The Island County board of commissioners appeared to be staying solidly in GOP hands as two incumbent Republicans were being returned to office by voters Tuesday night.

William "Mac" McDowell was narrowly edging two-time opponent Lynne Wilcox for District 2 in early returns.

Both candidates were reluctant to read too much into the early returns. Neither was willing to say who might finish first.

"It’s way too early," McDowell said, adding that the initial vote counts represented a sampling of absentee ballots.

"It’s not over till the fat lady sings," Wilcox said. "There’s just too small of a vote so far."

"I don’t think any candidate likes this part of it," she added.

"I think that Mac will probably do better than I do in Oak Harbor itself," Wilcox said, adding she hoped to gain a majority on other parts of Whidbey Island.

"I just kind of have that attitude, whatever happens, happens. We’ll know tomorrow," Wilcox said.

It’s been a contentious campaign. McDowell faced prolonged criticism throughout for his role in guiding development on Whidbey Island. Some said Island County dragged its feet during the implementation of the Growth Management Act, the state’s anti-urban sprawl law passed a decade ago, and blamed McDowell personally. Critics also hammered McDowell long and hard for the high fees paid to Seattle consultants to complete the county’s growth planning.

Low county employee morale was also an issue, with the employees union supporting Wilcox. However, some workers — most notably county clerk Margaret Rosenkranz and treasurer Maxine Sauter —supported McDowell.

The race hit a fevered pitch when McDowell’s wife, Elaine, bought a full-page ad in a weekly newspaper titled "Stop the mudslinging." Defending her husband, she accused Wilcox of character assassination and practicing the "politics of personal destruction."

Wilcox, a real estate consultant and a 30-year Island County resident, unsuccessfully challenged McDowell in the primary for county commissioner in 1996.

A former Navy pilot who came to Naval Air Station Whidbey in 1972, McDowell retired as a captain and was first elected to the three-member board of commissioners in 1992.

Meanwhile, incumbent GOP commissioner Mike Shelton was easily deflecting a challenge from political newcomer William Rowlands.

Shelton claimed an early lead and kept it into Tuesday night.

A Democrat who was not endorsed by his own party, Rowlands also campaigned on the issue of high growth-planning consulting costs. But Shelton, a commissioner since 1993, quickly outpaced Rowlands in early returns.

"It’s a comfortable lead," Shelton said. "I’m pleased."

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