John Kartak (left) and Linda Redmon.

John Kartak (left) and Linda Redmon.

Snohomish mayoral race shaping up to be a close one

John Kartak and Linda Redmon have diametrically opposed ideas of the mayor’s role on social issues.

SNOHOMISH — In a tight mayoral race to lead the city of Snohomish, incumbent Mayor John Kartak wants to preserve “small town values,” while his opponent, City Council President Linda Redmon, looks to become perhaps the first person of color to lead the town.

The city is still reeling from the fallout from events at the end of May 2020, when crowds of people gathered downtown carrying guns in response to an unconfirmed rumor that an anti-fascist group planned to loot downtown businesses.

The candidates have diametrically opposed ideas of the mayor’s role in responding to social issues.

“I think that the message from the top is important,” Redmon said. She said the message should be, “We hear you. We see you. We have heard your concerns, and we take them at face value. We take them as real, we take them as accurate, and we will do all we can to make sure that our city is inclusive and welcoming, and that we pay attention to those concerns in our policymaking and in our programs and in our services.”

In an email, Kartak told The Daily Herald equity and social issues are “buzz words for racism.”

“My role is to recognize that racism is evil,” he wrote. “Falsely accusing others of racism is also evil.”

Earlier this month, Kartak held an indoor campaign rally the same day a documentary examining racism in the city premiered.

Kartak said in a phone interview he “doesn’t subscribe to the idea that my community is divided.”

“There’s no such thing as a perfect community,” he said. “There’s always going to be some people who are divisive and some who are bigoted.”

At Kartak’s Oct. 16 rally, people sitting at the entrance passed out stickers and magnets saying, “Don’t Seattle our Snohomish.”

About 70 people attended the rally at an indoor soccer field.

Off-duty Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies told the crowd they felt safer working in the jail than walking the streets of Seattle. One of the rally’s speakers said her daughter recently began public school and encountered students that didn’t want to be referred to by gendered pronouns.

Kartak interjected.

“There is no ‘its’ in Snohomish!” he shouted.

In an email, Kartak told The Herald the comment was in regard to the “insane lengths” some schools go to with regard to inclusive language.

“We have children in our Snohomish School District, not ‘its,’” he wrote.

At the rally, Kartak received praise from City Councilmember Larry Countryman and Anita Azariah, vice chair of the Snohomish County Republican Party.

The Herald asked both candidates for live interviews. Redmon was interviewed online. Kartak asked for his questions via email and provided written responses. He also shared them on his campaign’s Facebook page.

Both Redmon and Kartak share a desire to preserve the town’s charm.

Kartak, the youngest of six siblings, said he was raised on Green Lantern Farm near the Snohomish River Valley. He has spent much of his adult life as a contractor, and was sworn in as mayor in 2017.

As mayor he has served on the boards of Snohomish County Tomorrow, the Snohomish County Housing Affordability Regional Taskforce, the Puget Sound Regional Council and the Growth Management Policy Board.

Redmon, whose mother is from Thailand, said she moved to Snohomish in 2009.

She began following city politics when the city was preparing to tear down Hal Moe Pool, she said. She came to Snohomish from the San Joaquin Valley of California.

She was elected to the City Council in 2017 and has since served on the Program Policy and Budget Committees for the Snohomish County Board of Health, East County Board of Housing Hope and Alliance for Housing Affordability.

Redmon said she has a to-do list, based in part on what she heard from people while knocking on doors.

“Infrastructure issues like water pressure and sidewalks, traffic, road quality, pedestrian safety,” Redmon said, reading from her tablet. “Those are all things that I said I want to work on anyway.”

She said she would continue her efforts to pursue state and federal money to tackle infrastructure projects.

Kartak told The Herald in July one of his biggest achievements was reducing “visible homelessness” in the city.

He said temporary solutions like shelters work for big cities, not Snohomish. He also noted he has volunteered to provide free meals and at a cold weather shelter.

“These things help us to remind our homeless sons and daughters that they are fully human, of infinite value, loved and worthy of redemption,” he said.

Redmon said the city needs to take a look at the roots of homelessness to find solutions, like giving people easier access to treatment for substance abuse.

Another way to get people housed, she said, is by increasing the housing stock — not through “huge” high-rise apartments, but higher-density housing that meshes with the city’s charm.

As examples, she suggested looking at accessory dwelling units and three-story apartments. Any conversations about housing should include input from residents, she said.

Kartak said the existing 60% single family, 40% multifamily housing balance works for Snohomish.

“How about the other cities follow our example for once, instead of asking us to fix all of their problems from here in small-town Snohomish,” he wrote.

Both Redmon and Kartak listed public safety as a priority.

Mayor Kartak has touted “tough on crime” policing in the city. But he also pointed to a transfer of funds from the former police dog unit to support a community outreach officer, who assists people struggling with mental health or addiction.

Kartak’s “tough on crime” stance doesn’t align with how Snohomish police actually do their jobs, Redmon said.

“The police-community relationship must be strengthened and defined by our own local narrative and not by the national narrative,” Chief Rob Palmer wrote in the annual report. “If we don’t work hard to define our own local narratives, then the default is the national narrative, and that is not an accurate narrative of policing in our city, nor is it an acceptable one.”

Over the past few years, Snohomish has shifted to a more compassionate policing model, Redmon said. In 2020, the city reported more than 40 mental health calls or contacts during which the community outreach officer responded.

Opponents have accused Redmon of wanting to “defund the police.” She said that’s not on her agenda.

“If we wanted to really address what people are asking for,” Redmon said, “we would actually have to spend more on the police.”

Kartak has written social media posts deeming Redmon and some council candidates as “Seattle-aligned.”

Redmon said she was recently waving campaign signs in the city, when a resident told her she should have stayed in Seattle.

“I’ve never lived in Seattle, so I’m not really sure where that’s coming from,” she said.

Redmon said as Snohomish grows, she would focus on preserving tree canopy, green space and farmland.

“I grew up in a farming and oil community and I want to preserve that,” Redmon said. “A lot of that farmland is gone now, I don’t want to see that same kind of thing happen here.”

In the primary election in August, Redmon led with 50.1% of the vote. Kartak took 45.7%, while third-party candidate Samuel King had 4.1%.

Kartak, who won his first mayoral race with far less contributions than his opponent, has raised $18,000 in campaign funds, according to public records.

Redmon had raised $28,000.

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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