Incumbent Ward 6 Aberdeen City Council member and former Council President Denny Lawrence is being challenged by Michelle Barclay, who is making a second bid for a council seat.
The ward encompasses Grays Harbor Community Hospital on the north, the Port of Grays Harbor on the south with residential areas that include the Aberdeen Highlands and the flats below, a mix of residential and business concerns on the border with Hoquiam.
A veteran of seven years, this is Lawrence’s third election for a seat in Ward 6. He lost narrowly — by around 20 votes twice — once to Frank Gordon, whose term he was elected by the council to fill when Gordon was elected County Commissioner, and once to Jerry Mills, his current seatmate in Ward 6. “They were tough opponents,” he said.
His opponent, Barclay, who was asked for an interview several times in email, in person and by phone, did not give an interview. This is her second attempt for the seat, losing in a three way primary against Mills and Lawrence. Her website (votebarclay.com) features no campaign events except attendance at city council meetings and does not seem to have been changed much since the primary.
Their primary opponent, businessman Bruce Daniels, who was knocked out with 20 percent of the vote when he came in third, has endorsed Lawrence. He emailed: “Denny is business friendly and has that ‘get the job done’ attitude. He is not afraid to make a decision and voice his opinion! Even though I did not make it through the primary, I will stay active, involved and look forward to working with Denny closely in the near future.”
Family is one of the first topics that comes up in an interview with Lawrence, who just lost his wife Caprice to a long illness that included chronic pulmonary disease. He was her caregiver. “I shop, I clean, I cook, I work,” he said, slipping in and out of the present tense when talking of their marriage of 33 years. “Her responsibility was taking care of the bills.”
His three sons and three young grandchildren mean the world to him, Lawrence said. “We eat together, play together, we watch the Seahawks together.” They have followed their father into public service: one son works for the city of Hoquiam, the other two for the city of Aberdeen.
He said he relishes solving problems such as clogged storm drains and street sweeping. He sees the job as liaison for his constituents to city services, where most of Aberdeen’s budget is spent. “We are paying those people to do a job, so let’s utilize the people we have and the tools we have.”
Lawrence also works as safety director at Harbor Paper and is one of four employees still on the job in rotating shifts 24/7. He brings a generator to work to heat and light the safety building since the utilities at the Hoquiam mill have been cut off for nonpayment. It’s like being on TV’s “Survivor.” he laughs, “You have to adapt and overcome.”
Crude by rail
“To me, (proposed crude-by-rail is) more about safety,” he said. “I am all for creating jobs and spending money local, but we cannot afford a natural disaster.”
His recent request in council for another AHAB siren for the west end of town was not fulfilled, though he is hopeful funding can be found. He sees a good warning system as key to helping constituents survive a tsunami or a derailment.
He wants to make sure the bridges are checked independently for safety and soundness. Preparedness is also key. Lawrence hands out county safety pamphlets and wants each resident to know where their muster point is in an emergency. Citizens can sign up for warning text messages and emails in the event of weather or other urgent conditions on the Grays Harbor Emergency Management website, he reminds.
“My biggest concern is the estuary. We have God’s gift of a deep water channel and fishing and recreation and tall ships.”
Minimum Maintenance Standards
Lawrence is the only candidate so far to bring up the idea of creating minimum standards for the appearance of buildings downtown. He believes boarding up broken windows and painting over graffiti can help deter vandalism and further decay. As a member of the mayor’s task force, he dove into cleanup efforts and thinks the recently painted city buildings “look a heck of a lot better.” He’d like to see more pride and power washing, no more mossy awnings.
He’d like to see events featured in Aberdeen at least once a month to keep people’s ties to the city strong.
Crime and Passion
He thinks there has been an uptick of late in crime and drug activity. His own cousin had a wallet stolen out of his truck, early one recent morning in the alley behind Lawrence’s home. Getting to know neighbors is crucial, and it may be time to revive crime watchdog groups in town, he thinks. He is sorry for the crime, but glad people use the more open format of council meetings to voice their ire and ideas.
Grassroots truly concerns Lawrence, who spent the years between council as chairman of Our Aberdeen, a civic group. He resigned when he had to add traveling to Bremerton to care for his father, now deceased. If both are re-elected, he will challenge Council President Kathi Hoder for his old job to “bring more structure” to council meetings, though he admires her dedication to the job, he said.
As the afternoon sun heats up the table during the interview, Lawrence is asked if he wants to move. “I am ready for some sunshine in my life,” he said.