Edmonds mayor race heats up with 3 serious contenders

Mike Nelson is seeking a second term. Mike Rosen has the backing of five former mayors. Council member Diane Buckshnis filed to run, too.

Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson

Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson

EDMONDS — A crowded field has emerged in the Edmonds mayoral race.

After a “rocky” start to his first term, Mayor Mike Nelson announced in February he’ll run for reelection. A challenger, Mike Rosen entered the race in December and did so with a lot of endorsements, including five former Edmonds mayors and current Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell. Then on Wednesday, City Council member Diane Buckshnis quietly filed campaign documents with the Public Disclosure Commission.

In a text conversation with The Herald on Thursday, Buckshnis said she is waiting until March 26 to officially announce. She declined an interview.

The official filing deadline is in May, so candidates still have time to enter.

Nelson, 47, said he wants to offer constituents a more equitable, walkable and future-oriented Edmonds.

Rosen, 68, perviously served on the city’s Planning Board, and if elected, he said he wants to increase public engagement with local government. He said he’s running for Edmonds mayor because “community members don’t feel they are being truly heard.”

In an interview this week, Nelson outlined plans for the next four years, such as improving pedestrian safety after he quadrupled its current budget. He also plans to propose a new multi-use trail to connect parks and schools, and to prioritize Edmonds parks and open spaces. He said he remains “dedicated to a fully functional Edmonds marsh that protects salmon and filters water,” as well as implementing the city’s Climate Action Plan.

Mike Rosen

Mike Rosen

‘Proof in the pudding’

Nelson, who previously served four years on the City Council and holds a law degree from Gonzaga University, took office the same month the county became ground zero for the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.

To keep businesses afloat, he approved “streateries,” or outdoor dining structures, built to allow social distancing while eating out. The streateries met some backlash for limiting parking and looking like “shantytowns,” but Nelson said they were pivotal to helping businesses. He stands by that decision.

“Look at sales tax revenue (in Edmonds) pre-COVID and post-COVID. They all collectively did better,” Nelson said. “Where you see the proof in the pudding — so to speak — is when you look downtown. (The businesses) are all still there.”

Annual sales tax revenue plateaued at $8 million in 2018 and 2019, but since 2020, revenue has risen steadily. In 2022, sales tax revenue amounted to $11.26 million.

Before the federal government dispersed CARES or ARPA funding, Nelson helped the city create a grant system to raise and hand out more than $100,000 to local businesses and residents. When the federal money rolled in, Nelson prioritized the allocation of $1 million to go primarily to small businesses that “historically have not gotten” that money.

Instead of funneling investments downtown, his goal of a more equitable government led the city to spend money in other areas, like in southwest Edmonds where he plans to build parks, he said. He’s proud of investments in “historically underserved” areas like Highway 99, and he looks forward to continuing that project. He’s also passionate about making Edmonds a more walkable city and investing in the Edmonds Climate Action Plan to achieve carbon neutrality.

Regarding housing, Nelson said he wants the city to invest in and get different kinds of housing options, such as multifamily housing, but he has been met with “delays and stalls from the City Council.”

“Do we want our children to be able to live in the same city that many folks here grew up in,” Nelson asked. “Or are we okay with the fact that they won’t be able to afford to purchase their own home or rent in our city. We as a community have to make a decision.”

Nelson has faced criticism during his term.

In Dec. 2020, he named Sherman Pruitt police chief and the City Council fast-tracked Pruitt’s confirmation. But they quickly came to regret their choice. As it turned out, Pruitt omitted key information on his application, so his appointment was reversed. Nelson selected Michelle Bennett nine months later.

“It was a rocky start, but if you look at how they are operating today, they are doing fabulous,” Nelson said. “It’s better trained, more accountable, more transparent, better equipped and more diverse than its ever has been.”

Bennett is the city’s first female police chief. Since she started, the city has funded seven more full-time officer positions and equipped its officers with body cameras in accordance with state law.

In May 2022, there were issues with the City Council. The council was accused of “bullying” city staffers after a string of resignations. The former city staffers said the council lacked civility. Nelson responded with a new system of reporting bullying to help curb the issue.

Now, Nelson said the City Council and his administration are “aligned generally on major issues,” but squabbles may arise “in the weeds.” For example, he said, they agreed on prioritizing public safety and having police cars, but they may debate over the exact number of cars needed.

Diane Buckshnis

Diane Buckshnis

‘Course corrections’

In an interview, Rosen explained the city’s current system does not make it easy for residents to have a voice on city matters. Currently, he said, residents must to go to council chambers at a specific time, stand at a podium and speak for no more than three minutes to be heard. It is also their responsibility to stay up to date on decisions by reading agendas or documents posted online.

“We have to go to them and make it easy, especially when trust in government is as low as it is,” Rosen said.

He said people need to know that they “have a meaningful voice and are respected.”

Back when he announced his campaign in December, Rosen said safety, health, housing and transportation were his top issues, but when asked this week about specific plans, he chuckled.

“The reality is, I have a list I’m keeping of 64 issues,” Rosen said.

His broad goals range from updating city code to addressing food insecurity.

Regarding housing and zoning, he said it’s “a bit of a moving target” considering the legislation being heard at the state level, but he wants to allow specific neighborhoods to retain their personalities. A “one size fits all” solution doesn’t exist, he said, reiterating that he would want to get feedback from the community before moving forward.

Similarly, he wants to gather public opinion before deciding whether to keep “streateries.” Rosen said streateries were a “pretty cool” way to keep restaurants open during the pandemic, but conditions change. He said there is a “better process of conversation” to be had about potential “course corrections.”

Dave Earling, one of the five former mayors to endorse Rosen, said there is a “great feeling of unrest and division” in the community. Earling believes a lack of leadership and civic engagement are at part to blame.

“There’s a real skill in engaging the community and carrying on upbeat attitudes, and that has not seemed to have happened often enough,” Earling said in an interview with The Herald in December. “There are ways the community can be brought back together, and I think Mike Rosen is a perfect person to do that.”

Nelson announced his campaign for reelection Feb. 13. He has yet to report any financial information or endorsements.

“At the end of the day, I’m going to talk about the things that I’ve done and the things that I want to do, and hopefully people will reelect me,” Nelson said. “I want to continue in this job because we are just getting started on so many important local projects and priorities.”

Rosen has received bipartisan financial support, according to his PDC filings.

Nelson has identified as a Democrat.

The mayoral race is nonpartisan.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated Mike Rosen currently serves on the city planning board. His term ended in November 2022. The article was updated on March 3, 2022 accordingly.

Kayla J. Dunn: 425-339-3449; kayla.dunn@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @KaylaJ_Dunn.

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