The contested races for city council in Aberdeen in 2013 are similar: all feature a veteran council member versus an enthusiastic challenger who is new to elective office.
The race for Ward 1 in South Aberdeen between council member John Smith and community activist Tawni Andrews is no different. Smith is a native of the Harbor, has lived on the south side since 1974 and has been on the council for six years, one full and one partial term. Andrews, who is a volunteer coordinator for emergency services and works in accounts for an electrical supplier, has lived on south side since 1990.
The South Aberdeen ward is a mixed bag. It features the popular Bishop Athletic Complex and the award-winning Grays Harbor College, as well as the beleaguered SouthShore Mall, which just lost anchor tenant JC Penney, and a residential area among the hardest hit in town by the economic downturn.
Fallout from the Great Recession and longer term business slump in Aberdeen are top of mind for both candidates, although neither is sure whether council can realistically do much about it.
Smith, because of what he has learned about city government, knows how little of the city’s funds are discretionary and how much depends on actions taken by state and county government. Andrews is unsure how much can be done in the council chambers because she is admittedly new to the process.
Smith chairs the public safety, one of three standing council committees. Because of her emergency work, Andrews is attracted to that committee as well as the one on finance, although she may not get to chair right away as a newcomer if elected.
The candidates talked about issues facing Aberdeen in separate interviews — he after a council meeting, and she at The Daily World.
Andrews has not taken a position on crude-by-rail. Smith hasn’t taken a firm position but is open to the idea, particularly if it brings jobs and all requirements are met.
“I have no data on (crude-by-rail), but we can’t say no to everything,” Smith said.
The prison at Stafford Creek, for example, met resistance, but he hasn’t seen it create a problem and “that’s 250 or 300 jobs that wouldn’t be here otherwise,” Smith said.
The Walmart expansion was also opposed by some, but if laws are followed, Smith thinks the council should not be in a position to pick winners and losers “or decide whether or not we like you (or not). It’s a matter of rules.”
“I am not for giving away the store,” he added, however. Smith reiterates all safety and environmental regulations should be met but that life involves risk. There have been crude accidents on the Harbor before and there is hazardous material that comes in by trucks “that would make your hair stand on end,” he said.
Smith noted that we “already have crude on the Harbor, I don’t care if it’s biodiesel or dinosaur diesel.”
Drugs & vandals
The issue of drugs and vandalism hits home for Andrews, who says her unlocked truck was “ransacked” recently right in front of her house in broad daylight. She knows not to leave anything of value in it.
Her biggest hope is to restore a sense of community pride in Aberdeen. She is dismayed by the amount of negativity she sees on Facebook by citizens and outsiders. She believes in extending cleanup projects to each ward, not just downtown.
“There is a lack of pride anymore,” Andrews said. She thinks the community should step up and change the city and admits she is still learning how, herself.
A volunteer for emergency services, her latest project in community service is to help organize a fundraiser for an upcoming gala with the Ladies of Aberdeen for The Electric Building’s 100th anniversary, rescheduled for Feb. 1, 2014.
Smith actively participated in downtown cleanup projects, and believes in private and public partnerships. The committee, with Public Works Director Malcolm Bowie, is currently working on creating an “adopt-a-block” program similar to the state adopt-a-highway program. The city would then pick up the trash gathered by adopters.
Smith acknowledged there are vacant houses, graffiti, vandalism, “people getting into homes to get out of the weather,” after a council meeting full of such complaints from other city neighborhoods. There are “several different vacant homes near mine and we’ve had problems with break-ins and people squatting. But I don’t think that’s specific to south Aberdeen, I think is endemic to most of the city.”
If anyone on city council had the answers to those problems they’d be electable to much higher office, because the issues are not just countywide or statewide but nationwide, he said. The problems are the symptom.
“What’s the disease?” Smith asks — Grays Harbor is number one in unemployment among state counties, he said. “That’s the disease. That’s the big issue.”
Many of his classmates in the Aberdeen High School class of 1981 had to move away to find jobs. (Smith is a supervisor at a pest control company in Ocean Shores.) He worries about demographics, whether there are enough people to support civic groups such as the Lions or Elks. Andrews also worries about unemployment. Two of her family members are studying for careers at Grays Harbor College.
Smith is recently divorced and has two daughters. Andrews is married for the second time and has three stepchildren and two sons.
She thinks the city’s return to the past through historic districts could spark what could be Aberdeen’s niche market in attracting visitors. He is in favor of property owners keeping the choice to gain historic status, which, through tax credits, may save some buildings. Because the city’s population is just over half its peak, Smith also thinks downsizing the city may serve it well.
Andrews did not vote for marijuana to be legalized. Smith cites the conflict in federal and state law, though the federal government has taken a hands-off position. Both would be fine in taking tax revenue from the sale of pot.
Smith goes door-to-door to campaign, emails and talks to people, and does interviews. He admits he isn’t into Facebook.
In deciding to run, Andrews waited until the last minute to register and is running a grassroots campaign, mainly using social media, postcards and fliers. Her candidacy is nothing personal against Smith, she says, she just thinks it is important to have a choice.