EVERETT — Voters in every corner of Snohomish County have weighty choices in Tuesday’s primary.
Nowhere more so than in Everett, the county’s geographical and political anchor.
More than a city of 110,000, Everett is a central front in fights over transit, housing and drug addiction. It’s a regional water supplier. The county seat.
Everett is home to a new university campus, a naval base and the state’s third-largest port. The city hosts many of the county’s social services, and much of its affordable housing stock.
This week, Everett voters will take a step toward picking their first new mayor in 14 years. They’ll cut a field of four candidates in half. And that’s attracting attention up and down Puget Sound, well beyond city limits.
“We all know that it’s terribly important,” Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling said. “The good news is that we have some very good candidates there. I’m hopeful strong leadership comes out of whoever is elected.”
Tuesday’s primary is by no means a spectator sport for the rest of the county. Most ballots include a County Council race. Controversies have spiced up historically ho-hum clashes for the Mukilteo City Council and a fire commissioner’s job.
The city of Snohomish, meanwhile, gets its first shot at directly electing a mayor, after voters there changed the city’s form of government.
Important decisions, to be sure. But if patterns hold, they’ll be left to fewer than a quarter of eligible voters.
“Right now, we’re trending around 24 or 25 percent,” county elections manager Garth Fell said of the projected primary turnout. “The city of Everett is about 1 percent behind the total countywide.”
Ballots were mailed in mid-July to 450,000 people. Ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday or placed in an official ballot drop box by 8 p.m. that day. There are 13 drop boxes throughout the county, many at city halls or libraries.
The top two candidates from each race will advance to the Nov. 7 general election.
About 55,000 ballots landed in Everett, where turnout trends lower. Among the quartet of Everett mayor hopefuls, Brian Sullivan has attracted ardent supporters, and determined detractors. His 30 years in state, county and Mukilteo city government gives him more than 10 times the experience in office as anyone else in the race.
Judy Tuohy is the current president of the Everett City Council, where she was first elected in 2014. For 22 years, she has directed the nonprofit Schack Art Center, previously the Arts Council of Snohomish County.
Cassie Franklin, elected to the City Council in 2015, leads the nonprofit Cocoon House, which provides services to homeless and at-risk youth.
Shean Nasin, a substitute teacher and coach in Everett schools, is making his first run for office.
Few political players remain on the sidelines.
Leaders such as outgoing Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and former County Executive Bob Drewel are supporting Franklin. So is Earling, the Edmonds mayor. Sullivan has sewn up solid support from unions, public safety officials and Democratic Party activists. Some of the city’s best known citizens stand with Tuohy.
Nasin is fueling his long-shot bid with a stream of ideas. He’s a political independent alongside a trio of Democrats.
Interest in the Everett mayor goes well beyond Snohomish County.
“It is one thing to watch what Seattle is doing,” Tacoma City Councilman Ryan Mello said. “But the Lynnwoods and Kents of the world can relate more to Tacoma and Everett in how we’re trying to approach solving problems than Seattle.”
Three of five County Council seats are in play.
Nate Nehring is trying to sustain the meteoric rise that saw him appointed in January to represent Council District 1. At the time, Nehring was in his first year teaching middle school science. The Stanwood man celebrated his 22nd birthday a few months after taking office.
He faces two Republicans and one Democrat.
Nehring has tried to prove his political chops during the first half of 2017. He’s kept up a punctual presence at the council meetings and has tried to make himself known throughout the district, which covers most of north Snohomish County. He’s snagged endorsements from a who’s who of elected leaders and vastly out fundraised his opponents.
Fellow Republican Chris Ihler has attacked Nehring’s limited work history. He’s distributed campaign mailers labeling his opponent “Nepotism Nate,” claiming that he benefited from being the son of Marysville’s nonpartisan mayor, Jon Nehring, who was not directly involved in the appointment.
Ihler, 35, lives in Marysville and has worked in online retail.
The other Republican in the race, Robert Sutherland, also criticizes Nehring’s age and lack of experience. Sutherland has run a campaign of reducing traffic congestion, protecting property rights and freezing property taxes at the level when someone buys a house. The 57-year-old from Granite Falls is a retired Air Force veteran who worked as a biochemist.
Sutherland and Ihler applied for the appointment that Nehring ended up winning, but were passed over by the local Republican Party. The vacancy opened after Ken Klein resigned to work for County Executive Dave Somers.
The Democrat in the race, Ray Miller, is a substance-abuse counselor and retired Air Force vet who lives in Marysville. Miller, 67, served as an elected county charter review commissioner last year and currently serves as appointed county human rights commissioner.
Miller’s campaign includes a focus on protecting rural areas. The candidate says his counseling background puts him in the best position to confront problems stemming from opioid abuse.
East Snohomish County features a three-way fight. Two Democrats are challenging Sam Low, a Republican, to represent County Council District 5. They’re staking out different positions on development, the environment and how to handle traffic.
When Low ran for a special one-year term last year, he was a Lake Stevens city councilman. He beat Democrat Hans Dunshee, a longtime state lawmaker appointed to the seat.
Low must win again for a full four-year term. He’s eager to show he’s helping constituents beyond his pro-business base. In that vein, he scheduled a community meeting in Maltby, where concerns run high about traffic, code enforcement and an apartment complex proposed for an otherwise rural area.
Challenger Kristin Kelly of Snohomish is a land-use advocate who has fought to protect rural and natural areas. Kelly wants to encourage developers to build new neighborhoods closer to existing services, to prevent existing residents from subsidizing the expansion of schools, roads and sewers. She works as the executive director of the Pilchuck Audubon Society and previously worked for Futurewise, a nonprofit focused on sustainable growth. She used to co-own a local grocery and has twice been elected a county charter review commissioner.
Pilchuck Audubon is one of the groups suing the state Department of Natural Resources over a timber harvest next to Wallace Falls State Park. Most county elected leaders, including Low, supported a compromise to let the harvest move ahead with some land set aside as buffers.
Tara Schumacher of Maltby hews more closely to Kelly’s thinking, but says she’s more moderate. Schumacher said she’d be a stronger advocate for businesses than Kelly, while taking a more skeptical stance than Low toward road-building and development. She supports the timber harvest that Pilchuck Audubon is suing to stop.
Schumacher, a first-time candidate, started the Maltby Citizens Coalition to address quality-of-life issues. She runs a design consulting firm, often volunteers for local causes and has served on nonprofit boards.
In County Council District 4, covering suburban areas mostly east of I-5, both candidates will advance to the November election. Incumbent Councilman Terry Ryan, a Democrat from Mill Creek, faces first-time candidate Marcus Barton, a Republican from Bothell. Ryan has a background in commercial real estate. Barton is a U.S. Army vet who works as a logistics manager for a recycling company.
New and unusual
The primary will have consequences for lively contests in Snohomish, Mukilteo and a south county fire district.
Like Everett, Snohomish has four candidates competing for mayor. An initiative last year changed the position to a “strong mayor,” instead of a mayor picked from among the City Council members.
Candidate John Kartak, a semi-retired general contractor, helped lead the push to change the form of city government. Elizabeth Larsen, another contender for the nonpartisan post, works as a senior environmental planner in the Snohomish County’s Public Works Department and volunteers with the American Red Cross.
Two City Council members are in the mix for the city’s top job. Derrick Burke runs a woodworking studio and used to work as a financial adviser. Karen Guzak, who served seven years as mayor under the old system, is a yoga teacher and professional artist.
In Mukilteo, an aerospace exec behind one of the city’s recent controversies is drawing attention for his bid to unseat an incumbent in Position 2. Peter Zieve is one of Councilman Bob Champion’s two challengers. The other is Tina Over, a real estate broker. Both challengers are first-time candidates.
Champion vows to continue what he characterizes as a steady, fiscally disciplined approach on the council. He works for Honeywell Inc. in Redmond as a staff scientist.
Over opposes a transportation sales-tax hike and wants to trim the city’s budget.
Zieve founded Electroimpact Inc., a major supplier to the Boeing Co. He was revealed last year as the person who circulated anonymous postcards throughout the city as part of a campaign to oppose the construction of a mosque. This year, Electroimpact was hit with a $485,000 fine from the state attorney general after an investigation found evidence that workers were harassed based on their religious faith and rewarded if they married and had children.
Zieve’s political platform centers on trimming unnecessary regulations, opposing new taxes and building more sports fields for youth.
There’s an unusually heated five-way contest for commissioner in Fire District 1. That’s connected to incumbent David Chan’s comments about hiring paramedics from Mexico during a meeting break earlier this year, while he was unaware his microphone was on. Chan, who is an immigrant, refused calls to step down and denied any racist intent behind the comments.
His four challengers are: P. Bret Chiafalo of Lynnwood, Michael Ellis of Lynnwood, Brandy Donaghy of Everett and Brandon Richards of Lynnwood.
The district covers unincorporated south Snohomish County and contracts for service with several cities.
Reporter Jerry Cornfield contributed to this report.
No one filed in May to run for City Council positions or the mayor’s job in Gold Bar. Commissioner posts in Fire District 26 and East County Park and Recreation also failed to attract applicants.
During a three-day period this week, candidates can file for those jobs online at www.snoco.org/elections or in person at the Auditor’s Office starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday through 5 p.m. Friday.
The Auditor’s Office is located on the first floor of the county’s admin west building at 3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett.