SNOHOMISH — Candidates running for mayor in Snohomish agree on their differences, and not much else.
Karen Guzak, a former Snohomish mayor, is campaigning against John Kartak, a man who pressed to change how the city governs. Snohomish will adopt a strong-mayor form of government in November, endowing a new elected leader with more power.
The town divided last year over a measure making the change. It barely passed, scooting by with 11 votes.
The community remains divided heading toward the Nov. 7 general election and some of the rhetoric has gotten ugly.
Kartak, 52, says voters face clear choices.
“I was asked recently what I appreciate most about my opponent. I said her smile, her charm and how she’s so different from how I am,” he said.
Guzak, 78, was elected to the City Council in 2008, and appointed as mayor two years later. She served for seven years before stepping down in February and resuming her role as a councilwoman.
She is most proud of the funding the city received to build a roundabout along Avenue D, one of the city’s major arterials. She also noted the upgraded sewage treatment plant and a pending project to construct a bridge along Highway 9 spanning the Snohomish River. The $142 million project would ease congestion at a traffic choke point.
Guzak opposed the idea of changing the city’s form of government. She believed the existing structure was working well.
As a strong mayor, she would hold office hours at City Hall and forums for folks to talk about town problems. Guzak foresees it being an everyday job.
“This is not what I thought I’d be doing in my 78th year, but I have the heart and the intelligence and the energy for this,” Guzak said.
Her immediate priority is helping the city transition smoothly into the new form of government. She plans to hire a city administrator. City Manager Larry Bauman would stay on staff for a couple of months to help with the training process.
In addition to a new leader, there could be up to six new people on the City Council. Guzak plans to host workshops and staff meetings focused on clarifying goals and discussing how they’ll work together.
Long term, she is looking to reduce sewer and water rates, which have been troublesome for many in town. She also hopes to continue ongoing projects from the current council, such as the renovation of the Hal Moe Pool site and Carnegie building.
In addition to the mayoral race, voters also will have a chance to vote on an advisory measure regarding marijuana. The ballot item asks people if they would like to lift existing restrictions that have been prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating within the city limits.
If the advisory measure passes, Guzak said she would advocate for strict zoning around schools and churches.
Kartak called the businesses a “great threat against our small town.”
“I would veto any decision to lift the ban on marijuana stores,” he said.
Though it is his first time seeking public office, he said his career experience as an employer would aid him. At 21, he became an operations manager for a family company called AAA Kartak Glass. He now works as a semi-retired contractor.
Kartak would focus on communication if elected. He wants people to know about important conversations happening in City Council meetings, especially those who aren’t able to make the Tuesday night gatherings.
“I want to make sure everyone has a voice in this town, not just the people who agree with me,” Kartak said.
He said he would host town hall meetings, knock on doors and check in with his neighbors.
Kartak already has begun preparing for office. He said he has spoken with at least one person about the city administrator position, which would be responsible for overseeing day-to-day operations.
“I’m currently having several conversations that are very promising and I’m confident that everything will be in place when I’m sworn in,” he said.
One of his first tasks as mayor would be to conduct a review of the city budget, looking for ways to maximize the city’s funds. He also has talked about addressing opioid addiction in the community. As mayor, he hopes to bring together people living in town, businesses, police and nonprofits to address addiction.
The town of 10,000 has been host to a contentious political scene for years.
In 2016, vandals sprayed graffiti on Lincoln Avenue near the Boys & Girls Club. They left a message calling Guzak a liar.
Both candidates’ campaign signs have been damaged and removed from front lawns. Pugnacious comments have been posted online.
Guzak said she is focused on making Snohomish a more compassionate city. Her campaign T-shirts read, “kindness.”
Kartak said Snohomish has a good sense of itself.
“When I look up and down my street full of neighbors I see a unified town of folks who look after each other,” Kartak said. “I hear a lot about division and I do see some chatter that shows some of this division, but among most of the people I know in Snohomish, our town is pretty unified.”
Differing opinions don’t mean the town is divided, he said.
Ballots are scheduled to be mailed out Thursday.
Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins @heraldnet.com.