- This is the inside story about how old alliances on the Sammamish City Council broke down and how new ones have been formed.
If there was any question following the first two or three months of the seating of the current Sammamish city council, all doubt was removed Tuesday: the council is split 4-3 along new alliances.
The debate Tuesday over Council Member Tom Hornish’s decision to step down as deputy mayor and from committees but not resign from the council had all the appearances of a power play led by Council Member Ramiro Valderrama.
One council member characterized the split as the new “V-3” and “M-4” factions, with the V-3 being Valderrama, Jason Ritchie and Pam Stuart and the M-4 being Mayor Christie Malchow, Hornish, Karen Moran and Chris Ross.
Once a close ally
Hornish, originally a close ally of Valderrama, split with the latter over Valderrama’s flip-flops on the Town Center moratorium, council investigation into the city’s transportation concurrency system and Valderrama’s history of distorting or outright misrepresenting facts.
Hornish and Malchow had a contentious meeting late last year with Valderrama over these issues. They refused to support him for mayor or deputy mayor when the new council was organized Jan. 2. Valderrama engaged in a protracted campaign to become mayor in lieu of Malchow, who assumed the position this year. She became deputy mayor in 2017, when Don Gerend stepped down (but remained on the council). Deputy Mayor Bob Keller succeeded Gerend. Valderrama was passed over to succeed Keller.
Valderrama, having flip-flopped on the moratorium and claimed support from key community leaders for injecting storm water in the Town Center—support all denied they had offered—alienated Hornish, Malchow and incoming council members Ross and Moran not only with his flip flop and misrepresentations but also his heavy-handed campaigning for the mayor’s slot. None supported him for mayor or, in the alternative, deputy mayor.
In the end, in a show of unity, Malchow and Hornish were unanimously selected mayor and deputy mayor.
(Valderrama now claims he never supported injection and the topic never came up in meetings. However, three key people he claimed supported storm water injection in the Town Center disputed his claims. These were Moran and Mary Shustov, both of whom were commissioners of the Sammamish Plateau Water district, and Wally Pereyra, the city’s leading environmentalist. Pereyra wrote a long, detailed letter to the council opposing injection. Sammamish Comment published a long post detailing the controversy here, including Valderrama’s evolving version of events.
Once allies, now foes
Like Hornish, Malchow also had once been a Valderrama ally. Both ran for their first terms on the city council in 2015; Valderrama ran for his second term then. The three essentially became a slate when opponents to Valderrama lumped them together to defeat all three.
Valderrama had encouraged Hornish to run. He campaigned for Hornish and Malchow, though Malchow largely ran her own race while Hornish—a reluctant candidate at the time—benefitted from Valderrama’s coattail effects in a landslide victory.
In the 2017 election, Ross, a first-time candidate, was close to Valderrama and relied on him in part for background information and campaign advice. Sammamish Comment, in its endorsement interview of Ross and opponent Rituja Indapure, wound up endorsing Indapure in part because we felt Ross was too close to Valderrama. Ross, of course, went on to win the election.
Ross split from Valderrama before taking office, also over Valderrama’s flip-flops and misrepresentations over the moratorium and Town Center.
Moran, who ran her own campaign last year, was a philosophical ally of Valderrama’s. She, too, split with him during the interim between the election and taking office, also over the moratorium, the Town Center, the injection and his heavy-handed campaign to become mayor.
With Valderrama’s allies abandoning him, he turned to newcomers Ritchie and Stuart, both elected to the council last year.
The three are odd bedfellows. Ritchie and Stuart are Democrats; Valderrama is a Republican. Although the council is non-partisan, partisan politics and endorsements always have crept into the races. Last year was no different, with the Democratic parties and elected officials in the three legislative districts covering Sammamish lining up behind Ritchie and Stuart. Republicans supported Valderrama.
Ritchie also had the backing of former council member Tom Vance and had been encouraged to run by former council member Kathy Huckabay, both vociferous opponents of Valderrama during their concurrent terms on the council with him. They openly opposed Valderrama’s reelection in 2015.
Stuart likewise had their backing.
Valderrama, Stuart and Ritchie are unnatural allies. But the latter are generally following Valderrama’s lead on development of the Town Center and efforts to lift the moratorium for the Town Center.
Council votes this year are generally in agreement, but on some key issues evolve into a 4-3 split along the M-4 and V-3 lines.
It all came to a head Tuesday over the Hornish issue.
Led by Valderrama, Ritchie and Stuart aligned with his arguments that council members should be required to serve on committees. They also supported Valderrama that Hornish should not be allowed to step down from the committees for the next 30 days to see how Hornish could juggle his new job and the committee assignments.
Since Hornish said, and reiterated, that his job assimilation and future travel requirements would not allow committee participation beyond the governance committee, Valderrama’s effort transparently was setting Hornish up to fail—at which time it’s certain that a new discussion would emerge seeking Hornish’s resignation from the council.
The V-3 did not get a fourth vote and Valderrama’s effort failed.
The irony: Valderrama two years ago ran for the Legislature, vowing to serve both positions if elected to the House. The conflicts of interest and time were obvious, but Valderrama waved off objections from his constituents.
What is going on?
The consensus opinion is that this was a pure power play by Valderrama.
The more sinister view is that getting rid of Hornish and appointing a replacement who is friendly to the V-3 or inexperienced in concurrency, growth and traffic issues will grease the skids to reopening development, notably of the Town Center. Development is halted under a building moratorium.
Valderrama, Ritchie and Stuart most vociferously favored moving ahead with the Town Center sooner than later. Valderrama has flipped flopped several times on including or exempting the Town Center from the moratorium.
It was a surprise when the seven voted unanimously to extend the moratorium another six months to continue work on the traffic concurrency revisions. But this will probably be the last time the moratorium is extended.
Hornish, who favors proceeding with the Town Center, does not, however, favor doing so “at all costs.” He. Along with Malchow, drove the study on the city’s concurrency system, which revealed fatal flaws, which in turn prompted the moratorium.
A broader view is that Valderrama still aches to be in the leadership. He’s now in his sixth year on the council and never has been able to obtain four votes for mayor. Malchow has the position through 2019, but the deputy mayor slot comes open next January. (The mayor is a two year term, the deputy mayor a one-year term.)
As noted above, he campaigned to the point of annoyance to be named mayor this year. Malchow got the appointment.
He’s served multiple terms as deputy mayor but could not draw support for another term this year when the council organized in January. Hornish got the job.
With Hornish stepping down, Stuart nominated Valderrama for deputy mayor, which he claimed was a surprise (a view disputed by some of his colleagues). Moran, the most experienced of council members, was nominated by Ross. Ritchie nominated Ross.
The V-3 voted for Valderrama and the M-4 voted for Moran. Ritchie, is should be noted, is already at odds with Moran and called her out Tuesday for “vulgar” language muttered under her breath during Valderrama’s speaking period, making it unlikely Ritchie would have supported her for deputy mayor irrespective of any alliances. Moran apologized on the spot.
Still feeling their way
It’s unclear just how solid or enduring the V-3 coalition is.
Ritchie and Stuart are new to Sammamish politics and to the council. Both are still feeling their way.
Ritchie told Sammamish Comment his questions Tuesday about Hornish’s involvement on committees were driven by not knowing the history of committees and council appointments and not by any ulterior motives. Indeed, some of his questions clearly were rooted in ignorance of the council rules and of state law.
Of the V-3, Ritchie was the first to say he wasn’t seeking to demand Hornish resign—though this came late in the discussion. Valderrama agreed, though his preceding discussion clearly implied otherwise. Stuart remained silent.
Ritchie was also the only one of the V-3 to step up and take on one of Hornish’s committee assignments, that of finance.
Ritchie told The Comment later that he’s unhappy with the divisions in the council and hidden agendas that seem to be present on both sides (without specificity).