By The Herald Editorial Board
If there were a race in Snohomish County that made an argument for ranked-choice voting — in which voters rank candidates in order of preference — it might be the contest for mayor of Lynnwood.
There’s little that separates the three candidates in terms of experience, their commitment to the city and its residents or even in their assessments of the city’s needs and the solutions that each would pursue as mayor. Voters’ ranked preferences might provide a needed tie-breaker among the closely matched trio.
Rather than that approach, however, the Aug. 3 primary will determine the two candidates who will move on to the Nov. 2 general election.
Three from the current Lynnwood City Council seek to succeed two-term Mayor Nicola Smith, who chose not to run for re-election: George Hurst first won election to the council in 2015 and made an unsuccessful run for mayor in 2017; Christine Frizzell won election to the council in 2017; and Jim Smith was elected to the council in 2019.
Smith, a small business owner of 30 years and former aviation instructor at Edmonds College, has bachelor’s degrees in business administration and pre-law, and has leadership certification through the Association of Washington Cities. His community service includes time as an officer with Rotary, Junior Achievement instructor, Lynnwood Festival chairman, Washington Air Search and Rescue and South County Court Advisory board.
Frizzell, with 30 years experience running her own accounting business, has been a resident of the city since childhood. She holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Her community service includes service on the boards for Neighbors in Need, Jean Kim Foundation, a senior low-income housing group and as a volunteer with the Lynnwood Fire Department and chaplain for Support 7.
Hurst, a Lynnwood resident of 30 years, has a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history. He has served on the county’s 911 board, the Puget Sound Regional Council’s executive board, on the regional fire authority planning committee and served on the legislative priorities committee of the Association of Washington Cities. He has past service on the Lynnwood Planning Committee and Community Emergency Response Team.
All three candidates, in a joint interview with the editorial board, recognized housing and growth — and how the arrival of Sound Transit’s Link light rail system in the city by 2024 will affect both — as a major issue for the city of more than 38,000 residents.
Hurst said he sees how the city addresses the availability and location of housing in the city as an opportunity to improve the city’s cultural and economic diversity. Frizzell sees the city’s biggest housing challenge as the availability of the city’s housing stock with a specific need for more rental housing, multiplex housing, condominiums and apartments, in particular for the under-served “missing middle.” The lack of stock, throughout the region, is responsible for increasing costs for mortgages and rents, she said. Smith, likewise, sees the greatest need for increasing the stock of affordable housing. And all saw opportunities for the city to adopt incentives that would encourage construction of more housing and review residential zoning.
Issues regarding city taxes and the budget show the greatest difference of opinion in degree and approach among the three.
Hurst, a critic of the current mayor’s budget policies, wants to revamp some of the city’s tax system, ending the city’s share of the vehicle licensing fee, and redirecting sales tax from vehicle sales and licensing to the city’s road maintenance and transportation needs. Likewise, Hurst believes that economic forecasts and expected growth should allow the city to also consider cutting the city’s utility tax without creating future deficits for the city.
Smith says there has been a past practice in seeking tax increases that have put the increases in terms of the daily cost of a coffee drink or a pizza a month. “I’m up to about 150 pizzas right now, and it’s starting to hurt a little bit,” he said. For the city’s lower-income families, the sales tax and utility taxes have the greatest impact. Smith proposed a utility tax cut that a council majority approved, but it was vetoed by the mayor.
Frizzell said she’s open to discussing city taxes and the city’s car tab fee, but noted that the city still is working to complete road maintenance work that was deferred because of budget shortfalls following the 2008 recession. On the utility tax, Frizzell said that averages about $72 annually for the most Lynnwood households. In terms of revenue that adds up for the city and contributes about 12 percent of the city’s revenue. Frizzell is open to ending the utility tax, but the city would have to find a corresponding reduction in city expenses. Hurst and Smith, she said, have not detailed where those cuts would be made.
In selecting the city’s next mayor, Lynnwood voters will, of course, prefer the candidate that speaks best to their concerns and interests. But each of the three offer laudable goals and a particular emphasis.
Smith seeks a focus on taxes, but also on taking steps to reduce homelessness and drug addiction. Hurst said the city needs more attention paid to climate change and what that means for Lynnwood’s infrastructure, particularly wastewater treatment. Frizzell stressed the importance of engaging other regional municipal and county leaders in shared concerns, including housing and climate change.
Four years ago, the editorial board, while recognizing Hurst’s careful eye on budget issues, gave its endorsement to the reelection of Nicola Smith based on the leadership she had shown and her working relationship with other local officials. As closely matched and skilled as the three candidates are, Frizzell is best-suited to continue the current mayor’s success in leading a vibrant and growing city.
The League of Women Voters for Snohomish County organized candidate forums for several local races. For video or audio forums for this race and others go to tinyurl.com/SnoLWVforums.