2003 City Council election flips from 4-3 conservative majority to 6-1 “green” Council

City_of_SammamishThe 2003 Sammamish election presented an opportunity to shift the balance of power from a Republican-conservative leaning City Council to a Democratic-left-of-center membership.

As the election season approached, the Council was generally, though not reliably, split 4-3. Ken Kilroy, Ron Haworth, Troy Romero and Jack Barry were reliably a voting bloc. The minority three were Michele Petitti, Kathy Huckabay and often, but not always, Don Gerend.

Petitti won her seat in 2001. The others were all original council members from 1999.

A small shift

Candidates backed by the Republican Party, who were considered by many to be conservative, generally pro-development and anti-environment, thumped “green” candidates in the first Sammamish City Council races in 1999.

The 2001 Council elections saw Phil Dyer, one of those winners in 1999, defeated by newcomer unknown Petitti. Dyer was a former State Senator for the 5th District (which at the time covered all but eight precincts of Sammamish). He served as the first mayor.

But Dyer’s arrogance and complacency made him an easy target for the energetic Petitti, whose door belling for votes was so thorough she unknowingly rang Dyer’s own doorbell in her campaign against him.

The incumbents also recorded a near-defeat. Nancy Whitten came within 147 votes of defeating Kilroy, another of the 1999 winners. Whitten actually led by 17 votes on election night, but lost the slim lead by the time all votes were counted. Whitten, a long-time environmentalist-activist, hated campaigning, including retail politicking. Instead she relied on an expensive advertising and snail-mail campaign, leaving the retail politics to her affable husband, Dick, and her supporters.

Kilroy, affable in his own right and a giant to Whitten’s diminutive stature (Kilroy was well over six feet tall, perhaps 6-6), like Dyer fell into the arrogant complacency. Like Dyer, he didn’t campaign. Had Whitten done so, she probably could have won.

Going into 2003

Petitti, Kilroy and Haworth were up for election. The latter two opted not to seek reelection.

Will Sadler, who served on the Planning Advisory Board that wrote the City’s first Comprehensive Plan, filed to run against Petitti.

Whitten, having narrowly missed being elected in 2001, filed to run again. Karen Moran, also a member of the PAB, filed against Whitten.

Mark Cross, an urban planner who had worked for other local governments, sought a Sammamish council seat. Cross was largely unknown in Sammamish, however. He was opposed by Mike Rundle, who made his name for his opposition to a critical portion of the East Lake Sammamish Trail.

Moran was well known in the City. She had been active in local politics prior to incorporation and was a strong—and controversial—supporter of the winning slate in 1999. She was active in the local Republican Party.

Sadler was a close ally of Moran’s on the PAB. Rundle had the strong support of Council Member Jack Barry, who opposed the ELST generally and the area of Rundle’s focus in particular for development by King County.

Thus, almost by default, two slates emerged: The Moran/Sadler/Rundle group vs the Petitti/Whitten/Cross troika.

The troika ran independent campaigns, but in the final days, supporters coordinated doorbelling, flier distribution and live Get Out The Vote telephone calls. It was never very clear whether or how closely coordination was between the other three candidates. The Republican Party did make robo calls on their behalf and supporters issued common campaign materials.

The issues

The issues of the campaigns can be summed up as follows:

  • The speed of growth. All candidates opposed runaway growth and development, but the pace of slowing growth was a matter of some debate.
  • Environmental issues. All candidates professed desires to protect the environment, but as with growth, the rhetoric debated who was more “green.” The troika wrapped themselves in being more green than the opposition.
  • Development of the Lake Trail. This, above all else, was the overriding issue in the 2003 election.

Because Moran was so well identified with the winning 1999 slate, who opposed development of the Lake Trail and did everything they could to block King County from doing so, it was easy to tar Moran with opposition to the Trail. In reality, Moran was far more moderate about development than those she had supported, but she was completely ineffectual in getting this message out.

Sadler, a close ally to Moran, was easily lumped in as a trail opponent. But Sadler’s biggest handicap was that he was young—just 30—and inexperienced in the ways of politics. He provided thoughtful service on the PAB, but did not stand out as a leader (as did Moran). Sadler would be easily outgunned by Petitti in all respects in the coming campaign.

Rundle owned property along the proposed lake trail. He didn’t live there-the land he owned had a tear-down home—but he vehemently opposed development of the trail that bisected his land.

Rundle proposed a bypass that shifted a large portion of the trail up to East Lake Sammamish Parkway and a street that angled off ELSP for several blocks before returning to ELSP. Rundle ‘s plan rerouted the proposed trail back to the rail bed. Perhaps a mile of the trail thus would be off the rail bed.

Aside from the obvious benefit to his property to have undivided development opportunity, the fact that Council Member Barry—an opponent to the trail from the get-go—was a strong supporter of what became known as the Rundle Bypass—made it easy to cast Rundle as an opponent to the entire trail.

Outside money

Sammamish elections were marked with outside money in the 1998 incorporation vote and the 1999 and 2001 City Council elections. The 2003 election had more than its share of outside money.

Mark Cross in particular was a beneficiary. “Green” money and funding from bicycle clubs represented a generous portion of funding for the troika. It was, perhaps, their greatest vulnerability.

But in a candidates’ forum, Cross memorably diffused the issue.

Cross was asked about the large amounts of outside money he received. Cross, who often has an understated way about him, noted that these contributions were from “green” sources and answered by asking, “Who can be against clean air and clean water?”

That ended that.

In the end, the election came down to whether citizens wanted the City Council to support development of the Trail, or continue to be obstructionists to King County.

The results

It was no contest. The troika trounced their opponents. Whitten, who once again, refused to campaign, relying instead on her husband and supporters, was the lowest vote-getter, but still won with 56% of the vote.

2003 election results

This flipped the Council majority from 4-3 Republican-conservative to 5-2 Democrat-left-of-center. Barry and Romero were now the two in minority.

But having savored a thumping victory, the greens-reaping payback from the 1999 beating they took—weren’t done. They turned their attention to Romero.

Rumors had long been circulating Romero no longer lived in Sammamish. In those days, before the Internet became the resource it is today, proving the suspicion wasn’t as easy as it is today.

Then shortly after the election, a front page article in The Seattle Times settled the matter. There for all to see was a photo of Romero looking at his new home outside San Diego (CA), which had been burned to a cinder in one of California’s annual wildfires.

That ended all doubt that Romero was no longer a full time resident of Sammamish.

Word quietly went to Romero suggesting he resign his seat before demands for his resignation became an embarrassing public issue given his circumstances.

Romero resigned. Remarkably, Kilroy, the retiring mayor at the time, wrote a message in the City newsletter how Romero had been talked out of resigning when he told officials he was opening a law office in San Diego in addition to his Bellevue office and building a home there. Kilroy’s message praised Romero and the fact officials talked him out of resigning—totally oblivious to the obvious disservice to the constituents of Sammamish.

Romero’s replacement

With Romero’s resignation, the new majority had the opportunity to appoint the replacement to fill Romero’s remaining term.

Among the applications: Lee Fellinge, and at the last minute, Bob Keller.

Both served on the PAB. Both were thoughtful and Keller in particular became a leader in creating the environmental section of the Comp Plan.

Fellinge was an ally of Council Member Huckabay (and a neighbor to future Council Member Tom Vance). Fellinge applied early and lined up support quickly. Keller decided at the last minute to apply, but by then Fellinge already had his support lined up. He received the appointment.

With this, the balance of the Council shifted from 4-3 before the election to 6-1 after Fellinge’s appointment. Jack Barry was now all alone.

East Lake Sammamish Trail

The development of ELST had been the top issue of the campaign. One of the first actions the new Council did was to enter into an inter-local agreement with King County ceding permit processing to the County for the Trail. Sammamish would remain the permit-issuing agency, but for all practical purposes, Sammamish washed its hands of the trail.

As we’ve seen from the history of the ELST in The Comment, this decision came back to haunt the City 12 years later.

This is the next is a continuing and sporadic series of the history of Sammamish, as seen from the perspective of Sammamish Comment’s founder, Scott Hamilton. Hamilton moved to Sammamish in 1996 (when it was still unincorporated King County). He moved from Sammamish in August 2016, now residing on Bainbridge Island. Sammamish Comment remains in operation through 2017 in order to complete the history. During this time, The Comment will also cover current issues not covered by the Sammamish Review and Issaquah-Sammamish Reporter.

Next: The 2005 City Council election.


7 thoughts on “2003 City Council election flips from 4-3 conservative majority to 6-1 “green” Council

  1. I’m taken back by the fact that only ~630 more people voted in the 2015 election over 2003’s election (per your numbers). That’s astonishing considering our population change over that time period. I’d be curious to see your analysis on that and curious how many registered voters there were in 2003 versus 2015. Interesting…

      • Also consider that much of the population explosion recently is due to Klahanie (which didn’t vote in 2015), non-citizen immigrants, and under 18’s.

        To further drill into that, many older folks are selling their houses and leaving Sammamish while the market is hot in an attempt to cash in for retirement and flee the high cost of living and traffic. From a historical perspective, these people tend to be US citizens living either alone or as a couple. Replacing these folks are families; the children cannot vote, and oftentimes the adults aren’t US citizens… so they can’t vote, either.

        Basically, if you are running for office around here, your voting bloc is comprised of the remaining elderly population, late in career couples without children, and some segment of working moms and dads who happen to be citizens and who happen to vote. This doesn’t really mirror the population of the city as a whole.

        A similar situation exists in Redmond, which has a heavy immigrant population that is not permitted to vote.

      • With the greater Klahanie area now part of Sammamish, there are 30,373 registered voters–minus two. King County still has my wife and me registered in Sammamish, though we canceled that in late July. The figure seems low, however; there should have been another 1,500-1,800 registered voters to fully account for Klahanie.

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