Winners and Losers in Sammamish’s David v Goliath city council election

  • This is a very long post.

By Scott Hamilton

Guest Contributor

Analysis

The 2019 Sammamish City Council election turned out to be the classic David vs Goliath fight.

The supporters of Karen McKnight, Rituja Indapure and Karen Howe (the McK3) amassed a record amount of money to defeat incumbent Christie Malchow and her allies, Ken Gamblin and Kent Treen (the M3).

Supporters of the McK3 were determined to defeat Malchow in particular, as well as the two “Ks”. They wanted to take over the city council with a 5-2 majority, or at the very least, a 4-3 majority, to push forward with the Town Center—potentially up zoning it and removing height restrictions. They wanted to weaken traffic concurrency standards, which would have the effect of loosening development potential in the rest of the city.

Outraised, out spent

The McK3 raised $78,000, about twice that of their opponents. Fully $37,000+ was raised by Indapure. (She outspent her opponent, Gamblin, by 7:1.) The Livable Sammamish Political Action Committee (PAC) spent $114,000—a record for Sammamish council races. This is nearly 2.7 times the amount spent by the opposing PAC supporting the M3. All but $2,000 came from one of the developers of the Town Center.

The M3 raised $34,000. The Sammamish Life PAC raised $42,500, also a record. More than 30 citizens contributed to the PAC, but $35,000 came from two donors, environmentalist Wally Peyera and community activist Harry Shedd.

Partisan race

Supporters of the McK3 also turned this into a partisan race. The 5th, 41st and 45th Legislative Districts endorsed the McK3. Key outside environmental groups backed them as well. These groups imported scores of workers to doorbell Sammamish on behalf of the McK3.

McK3 supporters began a whispering campaign that Malchow was a Republican and attended the Trump inauguration (she was at the city council’s own retreat in Tacoma at that time). When she was out of state caring for her cancer-ridden mother, these claims broke into the Facebook-sphere. (There was no indication the McK3 themselves were involved in this.)

The M3 didn’t seek endorsements of the political parties and weren’t even interviewed by the environmental groups. They were on their own when it came to doorbelling.

Against this David vs. Goliath backdrop, there were many more Winners and Losers than the election results alone indicated.

Winners

Malchow, Treen and Gamblin didn’t just win, they won by landslide proportions. Winning a “mandate” is an overused term in politics, but the vote results in this case support use of this term.

Growth, notably over the Town Center, was the overriding issue. But turmoil at City Hall, where there has been high staff turnover and changes at the administrative level, also has been a problem. The McK3 supporters tried to lay all this at the feet of Mayor Malchow. The reality is far more complex.

Now, with a 5-2 majority, the Council under the new mayor and deputy mayor—whoever these will be—have a mandate to appoint or back a city manager who will clean house and straighten out the problems.

The YMCA is another area of concern. Evidence indicates the Y may be diverting as much as $1.5m a year from the city under a poorly written contract. The current 4-3 majority faced stiff pushback from  Ramiro Valderrama and Pam Stuart. The third member of the minority, Jason Ritchie, has been less vocal but supportive of the Y.

With Valderrama leaving the council Dec. 31 and Stuart marginalized, the new 5-2 majority has the power to push for resolution to this long-running dispute.

The new majority has a mandate to pursue changes to infrastructure (translation: roads) and policies without Valderrama’s obstructionism and the ability to proceed over the objections of the volatile Stuart.

Karen Moran, Chris Ross and Tom Hornish

Although not on the ballot and rarely mentioned during the campaign, Karen Moran, Chris Ross and Tom Hornish were winners in the election.

As part of the council majority with Malchow, these three pushed for new traffic concurrency standards, held fast on a building moratorium until they were ready to lift it, pushed for prioritizing infrastructure over development and for an investigation of the financial aspects of the YMCA contract managing the community center. The election results were as much a validation of their work as it was for Malchow and a course for the next two years at least.

Controlled-growth advocates

This election came down to the overriding issue of controlled growth vs unfettered growth.

Master Builders Assn.

Yes, the MBA was a winner. Unlike previous elections in which either the MBA or its Affordable Housing group played a role, spending money, endorsing and mailing campaign materials, the MBA sat this election out. It sensed a huge catfight brewing, in which building and development was going to be the big, big issue. So the MBA stayed on the sidelines.

Citizens fed up with unfettered growth and traffic

Sammamish was incorporated in 1999 to get out from under King County rule in which growth was jammed into the Plateau and road improvements were neglected.

City councils had a building moratorium for years, until the developers had enough and sued. Sammamish lifted the moratorium. Part of the settlement, as it was later learned, was that a traffic concurrency model would never fail a development application.

Meantime, city councils neglected additional road improvements. Tom Odell, who served two terms on the council, complained on more than one occasion that the council was neglecting road improvements. By the time he retired in 2017, he noted that the council had neglected road improvements for 10 years.

Why?

According to former public works director John Cunningham, $25m was diverted from roads to build the community center. None of the councils wanted to increase taxes, so the annual 1% permitted tax increase wasn’t adopted during this time—even though the revenue, in the scheme of things, was a pittance.

Ironically, last year Malchow and her arch political enemy on the council, Pam Stuart, were the only two voting to adopt the 1% increase.

The unfettered growth coupled with the absence of road improvements came to a boiling point over the next phases of the Town Center. People didn’t seem to object to the commercial aspects, but the addition of 2,000 homes and the traffic that comes with it has reached a boiling point.

They voted accordingly, sending a mandate and a new super-majority to the council.

Losers

There is a long list of losers in this election, aside from McKnight, Indapure and Howe in this election.

STCA

The developer of the next phases of the Town Center is clearly the biggest loser, even though STCA was nowhere to be overtly seen.

The new majority on the council will be urged to reopen the entire Town Center Plan, with a goal of reducing the number of units to lessen traffic impacts. (Also look for a drive to up zone, though this will be dead on arrival.)

Reopening the plan means years of process.

Sammamish Chamber of Commerce

The Chamber is a huge loser in this election. So is its CEO, Deborah Sogge.

The Chamber decided to become engaged in a high-profile series of actions that bit the hand that funds it: the Sammamish City Council.

Sogge and other Chamber leaders, notably VP Julio Richburg, became huge and at times vitriolic critics of not only Malchow but of the council as a whole. Richburg called the council “morally bankrupt” over its vote for a building moratorium.

Sogge claimed Richburg wasn’t speaking for the Chamber. But on an unrelated issue, Chamber board member Jason Ritchie, who is also a city council member, said Sammamish Now speaks for the Chamber. Sammamish Now is a blog the Chamber launched purportedly to provide “Accurate Accounts of Local News.” Instead, it was clearly a campaign vehicle designed to defeat Malchow, Treen and Gamblin.

The Chamber’s political activism and fiction that it was neutral in the campaign offended not only Malchow, Treen and Gamblin but also Moran and Ross, sitting in mid-term. Moran and Ross have been vocal that the Chamber’s actions when it’s been mostly funded by the city (as its tax records show)——was inappropriate.

The ramifications of this have yet to be seen.

Jason Ritchie

Council member Jason Ritchie came out a three-time loser in this election.

In addition to the flawed strategy of Sammamish Now, Ritchie stood to become either mayor or deputy mayor if at least two of the three McK3 got elected. Having run twice for higher office than the city council (losing each time), it’s been assumed Ritchie will try again after a successful term on the council. His first two years have been marred by his miscues, loose lips, attacking constituents on Facebook and antagonistic manner both at council meetings and behind the scenes with fellow council members. The next two years needed to soften his image and demonstrate his leadership.

With the big losses Tuesday of candidates he supported, kiss the mayor or deputy mayor position goodbye.

His other activities in the election also placed him on the losing side.

Ritchie claimed he wasn’t involved in the election. Aside from the Chamber-Sammamish Now activity, Ritchie was active in a private Facebook group for “Indivisible” Democrats. Even as Ritchie claimed he was not involved, screen shots were circulating of his Facebook postings making allegations against two large contributors to the Sammamish Life PAC and partisan comments against Malchow.

And his wife, Amy, was active on other Facebook groups until she posted a long criticism of Malchow over the city’s Human Services Commission. The allegations came in the wake of two overdose drug deaths of Skyline High School students and contained several falsehoods. After The Comment revealed these falsehoods, Amy Ritchie disappeared from Facebook commentary and Jason Ritchie retreated to the Indivisible group. Nevertheless, the resulting Facebook firestorm tagged Jason as much as it did Amy.

Ritchie called Council Member Karen Moran at 7pm on election night, boasting the McK 3 were going to win. That didn’t work out well.

Pam Stuart

If Jason Ritchie didn’t become mayor if the McK3 won, then the job was going to go to Pam Stuart.

Stuart hasn’t run for higher office before, but it’s been widely assumed she was being groomed for one. She had strong backing from the 45th Legislative District Democrats in 2017 and has been active this year for the McK3.

But Stuart’s demeanor at the city council has been nothing short of outlandish at times, with temper tantrums and in-your-face (literally) confrontations with fellow council members on the sidelines when things don’t go her way.

While Ritchie ostensibly is conciliatory at times, Stuart is a my-way-or-the-highway person. She is at risk of becoming a minority of one if Ritchie assimilates into the majority.

The Democratic Party and Environmental Groups

The city council is a non-partisan body and the races are non-partisan.

The McK3 backers plotted to make it partisan and the Democratic groups for the 5th, 41st and 45th Legislative Districts fell into line. They made a big push for the McK3, endorsing them and recruiting groups to doorbell for them.

The LDs ignored the fact that Gamblin and Treen are Democrats. Malchow, an independent, was painted as a Republican and falsely accused of being a Trump supporter and going to his inauguration—which was when the city council had its retreat in Tacoma, by the way.

The falsehoods began as a whispering campaign and broke into the public domain when Malchow was out of state tending to her critically ill mother.

The falsehoods and timing backfired.

The Washington Conservation Voters, Sierra Club and Fuse also endorsed the McK 3 and recruited doorbellers. But they didn’t interview the M3 and it became clear after The Comment’s Miki Mullor interviewed the WCV and Fuse that neither group understood the issues on the ground in Sammamish. The three groups promote high density development as “environmentally friendly,” a line repeated for two years by Ritchie and Stuart and echoed by the McK3. The concept may work for some cities, but in Sammamish, it’s not that simple—and residents here roundly reject high density.

Creating partisanship, lacking understanding of the issues and importing troops to doorbell backfired.

Congresswoman Kim Schrier 

Kim Schrier, the Democrat House Representative of the 8th Congressional District (this includes Sammamish) is a Samamamish resident and is aware of the local issues. Schrier initially releases a statement supporting Christie Malchow, but reversed course when faced criticism from her own party.

Schrier had a misstep in a video shot in support of Indapure, McKnight and Howe. Schrier could be heard saying she’s embarrassed by recent news report of Sammamish being the wealthiest city in the country, saying it points to some of the problems for having single family homes and “NIMBYsm”.

In this video, shot by Council Member Pam Stuart, Schrier recited pro-Town Center talking points and aligned herself with Town Center supporters, against the vast majority of the voters.

The video will likely resurface during Schrier’s re-election campaign.

Rituja Indapure

Indapure went splat. This was her second consecutive run for city council, and she did 12 pts worse this time than her first outing in 2017, in which she captured 47% of the vote against Chris Ross. In the two elections, she raised more than $70,000, a lot of it from outside Sammamish.

In 2017 she received 47% of the vote. This year she came in at 35%, despite endorsements from three Democratic Party groups and environmental groups.

She’s now lost two back-to-back council elections.

Karen Howe

Howe, like Indapure, ran for council 2017 and lost. In this election, she trailed her 2017 performance by more than six percentage points. The backers of the M3 feared Howe the most of the McK3 slate. But, like Indapure, Howe  now lost two back-to-back elections.

Citizens who want to develop

Those citizens who want to develop their land to realize their value, or sell to developers, are certainly short-term losers.

An idea was floated revamp the Transfer Development Rights program to give these homeowners the opportunity to sell TDRs outside the city, if possible. It’s unclear at this point how this may be legally structured.

YMCA

The YMCA is in deep dodo.

Examining the books and financial aspects of the management contract has been a struggle, with the 4-3 majority fighting against strong defense by Stuart and Valderrama and supported by Ritchie. With a super-majority now, the effort to determine if the Y is improperly or unfairly siphoning money out of Sammamish taxpayers’ pockets is going to pick up steam.

Don Gerend and Kathy Huckabay

These former mayors and council members became the face of the Livable Sammamish PAC funded by RD Merrill Company, a co-developer of the Town Center. By the time it was done, the PAC raised about $46,000—all but $2,000 from Merrill, and went into $67,000 in debt

Gerend said he and Huckabay saw the Sammamish Life PAC funded at $35,000 (ultimately it raised $42,500). More than 30 citizens contributed but it was principally funded by two citizens, environmentalist Wally Peyera and activist Harry Shedd. Gerend feared they were trying to “buy” the election.

The irony, of course, is that Livable more than doubled its money, almost all from a single builder.

Gerend’s legacy and 19 years of service to the city on the council and as regional representative also took a hit. He’s “suing” the city to overturn traffic concurrency, using a developer’s attorney who is also the registered agent attorney for STCA.

His combined activities made him a villain in this election, forever tarnishing two decades of community service.

Huckabay stepped in it through race-baiting.

Race-baiting

Astoundingly, the race card was played multiple times in this election.

Supporters of Indapure called some of her policy critics “racists” and, in at least one case, “misogynist.” Huckabay, the former mayor and one of the two members of the Livable Sammamish PAC, called a mailer about Indapure from the rival Sammamish Life PAC a “disgusting racist” piece, without explaining why she made this charge.

Tom Vance

Vance lost two of three city council elections from 2009-2015. He was the first sitting mayor and only the third sitting council member to lose reelection, in 2015. The 2009 Planning Commission refused to reappoint him to a second term as chairman. He could not draw support to run against King County Council Member Kathy Lambert in 2017.

In political purgatory since his 2015 reelection loss, Vance—according to those in the know—viewed this election as his mechanism back to relevancy. One former city council member said Vance told him he, Vance, had strong candidates lined up to run for election this cycle. (They turned out to be two retreads, Indapure and Howe.)

One source told The Comment that Ritchie boasted that Vance’s planned blog (Sammamish Front-Page, when it was announced) would be used as a vehicle to defeat Malchow and Council Member Tom Hornish, who at that point had not announced he would not seek reelection.

After Vance’s blog became public, his “About” was about Tom Vance and not what it would do for Sammamish. His early writings were as much about Vance’s tenure in government as they were about issues. The blog appeared to be as much about Vance’s political rehabilitation as it did about the issues.

Once he geared up into full election mode, his writings, posted on Facebook, were widely received with derision.

He frequently targeted this writer and The Comment. We at The Comment internally cheered him on; he was doing more harm than good for his cause.

The election strategy did not end well. The candidates he supported, the McK 3, lost spectacularly.

One more winner

Sammamish Comment

It’s difficult to write about one’s self, but it must be done.

Sammamish Comment came out a winner in this election, too.

For two years, there has been a determined effort to undermine the credibility of The Comment, editor Miki Mullor and this writer.

It began with Council Member Ramiro Valderrama characterizing The Comment as an “opinion blog.” This happened because The Comment broke with him after he was reelected in 2015 with strong support from us.

Valderrama shortly decided to run for the State House in the 45th LD as a Republican. Normally direct and unambiguous, he for months ducked, bobbed and weaved whether he would support Donald Trump for president. Valderrama lost, with a huge vote against him in the north half of Sammamish, which had voted heavily for him the year before for council reelection.

In his first term, Valderrama was a solid citizen ombudsman. In his second term, he became a solid STCA ombudsman.

The Comment called him out repeatedly for obfuscations, misrepresentations and outright falsehoods. Hence, he tagged The Comment as an “opinion blog.” Ritchie and Stuart, allied with Valderrama on the council, picked this up.

For the next two years, they pursued this constant drumbeat.

Tom Vance, with his silly Sammamish Front-Page, and the Chamber, with its Sammamish Now tried throughout this election cycle to discredit The Comment.

Mullor, with his continued government watchdog investigations and bulldog digging into campaign and PDC activities, maintained The Comment’s position as a source for news. Readership through October passed the highest number in its history, obtained in 2017 when The Comment was the only source for  news in Sammamish.

The Comment relied on facts, public records, interviews, public records requests and other sources of data supporting its reporting. Sammamish Front-Page and Sammamish Now were the true “opinion blogs.”

The Comment, as it has through every election, provides the only coverage of the election results and post-election results updates and analysis. Front-Page and Now haven’t written one word. Their political objectives were clear.

Sammamish Comment will continue to bring news and analysis, as it has since founding in 2003.

15 thoughts on “Winners and Losers in Sammamish’s David v Goliath city council election

  1. After house cleaning it would appear to be a priority to go after the $25M the Y shafted the city, and apply it to roads where it should have went in the first place. That community center: what an Albatross.

  2. Thank you for the details and your opinions on summary. I’m glad the election results ended the way they did. Especially that fairness and truth held sway. I do think there are some valid points the other side made, but am very happy we as a city are taking a reasoned and careful approach to increased density and development. I had no idea about the Y. I do think it serves many in our community very well and is affordable for families (including ours), but it’s important that we understand any subsidized value being provided and that there is transparency to all. I do think that with the number of families with kids on the Plateau, it’s great to have a community center, and I hope Sammamish citizens continue to support and patronize it.

  3. A great result concerning the outcome of the election. Let us keep in mind the proposed town center plan with the multiple apartments would have been a disgrace . Let us come up with up with a better plan that is far more attractive. We are not here to please developers. We have enough ghetto designs. H. M.

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  4. Thanks Scott. You and Miki Mullor are the only people in Sammamish that can be trusted to tell the truth. Keep up the good work, and thanks again for all you do.

  5. I just wanted to express my gratitude and appreciation for the Sammamish Comment, the writers and the information you provide that is nearly impossible to find elsewhere. Your reporting undoubtedly played a huge role in keeping us informed and contributed to a landslide victory for all of us who love this city and have been frustrated and saddened by what’s been happening over the years. Keep up the good work.

  6. Please keep on the Y siphoning money away from Sammamish story Scott and Miki – it’s the next house of cards about to fold – just watch folks.

  7. Thanks to you and Miki for your insightful and consistent dedication to providing Sammamish with a clear informative forum and news !

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