EVERETT — Fueled by the check-writing of city firefighters, Brian Sullivan enjoys a sizable fundraising lead in the four-way race to become Everett’s next mayor.
Sullivan, a Democratic Snohomish County councilman, had hauled in $85,108 through the end of May. That’s nearly as much as the other three candidates combined.
Cassie Franklin is next with $40,231 followed by Judy Tuohy with $36,542, according to reports posted online by the state Public Disclosure Commission. Both women are Democrats and serve on the Everett City Council. Shean Nasin, the fourth candidate, said he’s raised $12,000, though details had not been posted on the commission website as of Wednesday.
The top two finishers in the Aug. 1 primary will face off in the general election.
When Sullivan started his campaign in December, Everett firefighters immediately got behind him. They wanted badly to unseat Stephanson, whom they consider a longtime nemesis. They opened their wallets in an unprecedented fashion to help Sullivan whom they consider a solid friend.
“We were going after Ray Stephanson. We were going to go after him hard,” said Paul Gagnon, president of the Everett firefighters union. “We feel there’s been a real lack of respect for the fire department over the years.”
Sullivan’s first 29 contributions came in amounts of $100 to $1,000 from employees of Everett’s fire department, according to the PDC website. Of the first 75 contributions, 65 came from individual firefighters and one was a check from the union. Local 46 represents about 165 firefighters and paramedics.
Through May 31, Sullivan had collected $26,605 from fire personnel and another $9,200 from 14 firefighter unions around Washington, including Pasco, Aberdeen, Anacortes and Seattle. This money made up 43 percent of Sullivan’s total.
While firefighters poured in a lot of money early, they continued donating after Stephanson left the race and the two councilwomen — both of whom firefighters supported in their last elections — entered.
“There are no hard feelings. They were not in the race and we were already committed to Brian,” Gagnon said. “If needed, we are absolutely committed to give more.”
Franklin and Tuohy each expressed disappointment the union hasn’t altered course.
“I think everyone was wondering if they would back off the gas pedal. They haven’t,” Franklin said. “It’s hard to compete with.”
Stephanson said he’s concerned about the union’s oversized investment early in the race.
“As a citizen that is alarming to me and should be to other citizens,” he said. “When I see something like that my thought is: What have they been promised in return? It doesn’t sit well with me.”
Sullivan’s resume also includes having served as a state lawmaker and mayor of Mukilteo. On Tuesday, he said he’s enjoyed support of firefighters throughout his political career. He said he’s made no promises, though he understands firefighters’ desire for more staffing and better equipment and their bitter relationship with the mayor.
“I went and pitched them. I didn’t promise them anything but a fair and equitable hearing,” Sullivan said. “There’s no special favors.”
Meanwhile, a review is under way of a $10,000 donation Sullivan received from the 38th Legislative District Democrats on April 3.
A complaint filed with the PDC alleges the Everett Firefighters Local 46 made a $10,500 donation to the Democratic Party group March 22 and wanted the money directed to Sullivan’s campaign. The complaint asserts it was a “pass-through” donation that the Democratic organization failed to properly report as an earmarked contribution.
The Democratic group’s finance chairman has denied wrongdoing. Commission staff are assessing the evidence.
Gagnon said the union made no specific requests on use of the donation.
“We gave the money with the hope they would give it to the candidates and causes we believe in. We didn’t know for certain how it would be used,” he said.
Sullivan said he won’t be giving any of the money back and isn’t concerned about any fallout.
“This is an issue between the firefighters and the 38th LD Democrats,” he said. “I don’t know why I would give the money back.”
Franklin is endorsed by Stephanson and the mayor contributed $1,000 to her campaign. Some of his backers have since lined up behind Franklin as well.
“I am certainly honored to have his support. I am not Mayor Stephanson,” she said. “I will be a different mayor.”
Overall, she’s garnered money from a cross-section of the community involved in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Her roster of contributors includes a few better known Republicans, such as Everett Councilman Scott Bader and restaurant owner Shawn O’Donnell.
Tuohy, an Everett native, has served on the City Council since 2014 and is the current president. She is the executive director of the Schack Art Center.
On Tuesday, she said in addition to the firefighter donations, she was a little surprised at the “tremendous amount” of money Sullivan had received from statewide unions and interest groups. His donors include the Washington Association of Realtors and the Washington Conservation Voters.
“I don’t know what that means in terms of votes,” Tuohy said.
“I’m really quite happy with where my campaign fundraising is at. We’re hitting our goals,” she said, adding more than 83 percent of her contributions are from Everett residents. “They’re voters. I like that.”
Civic leaders, past and present, are scattered among her roster of donors, including City Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher, state Rep. June Robinson and former Councilmember Connie Niva.
Nasin, a substitute teacher and former downtown business owner, said his focus isn’t on raising the most money.
“We are more concerned with reaching out to the hard-working Everett voter through a grassroots style campaign. I only want to be endorsed by, and beholden to the citizens of Everett,” he wrote in an email.
And he asserted the firefighters’ money might not correlate to votes.
“I am disappointed in the Everett Firefighters for choosing to support one specific candidate before they knew of ALL the candidates entering the race,” he wrote. “Fortunately for us, and the Everett voters, only 12 out of the 100 plus (according to the PDC) Everett Firefighters donating money to Brian Sullivan’s campaign live (in), and can vote in Everett.”
Meanwhile, Stephanson still has some campaign funds he could use in some way in this contest.
He had $21,078 in his campaign coffers when he decided not to run again. He’s refunded $5,300 to those donors who gave him money in January when he was still in the race. He’s also made separate $5,000 donations to the capital campaigns of Our Saviors Lutheran Church and Cocoon House.
State law bars him from contributing any of the remaining amount directly to a candidate, but he said he could give it to a political party or political action committee. The mayor said Monday the money will go to charitable causes and not be used in the campaign.