Frank Gordon almost didn’t run for Aberdeen City Council, which he says would have meant he would never have put his hat in for this year’s county commission campaign.
In mourning over the tragic and sudden death of his grandson Tyler three years ago, he almost called it quits. Tyler, 26 years old and wearing helmet and safety gear, died when he was thrown from his ATV on a trail. Just a couple months before Election Day back in 2009, Gordon hadn’t done any campaigning. He didn’t have any signs.
But, then, he had a realization.
“Before I was going to run for council, my boy told me, ‘Papa, the Harbor’s been so good to all of us. It’s time for you to give something back.’ After my boy died, it made me think how lucky I am.”
So in a few weeks, Gordon changed course, began to campaign aggressively and unseated then-City Council President Denny Lawrence. Lawrence had the support of every member of the council at the time and Gordon’s win was a shocker. Here came this outsider to shake things up. Flash forward to today and Gordon has garnered the support of his fellow council members.
“I still feel right now Tyler’s watching me and most of the things I do make him proud,” Gordon said.
Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson and Council President Kathi Hoder both say they enthusiastically support Gordon now, who they see as the man who can help improve communication between the county commissioners and city officials all over the Harbor. Gordon, a Democrat from Aberdeen is running for Commission District 2. In a four-way primary, Gordon won the election with 29.2 percent. He faces Republican Allan Shores, a retired PUD worker from Aberdeen, who garnered 28.8 percent in the primary.
Incumbent Commissioner Mike Wilson ran for re-election but didn’t make it past the primary. Westport Mayor Michael Bruce also lost in the primary. Both are Democats.
The Nov. 6 election is now countywide.
This is Gordon’s second countywide election. Two years ago, he ran for an open commission seat on the Grays Harbor PUD, running against Aberdeen Deputy Police Chief Dave Timmons. Timmons won that election with 54 percent of the vote.
A different look
But Gordon sees this year’s election as different.
“I don’t know if I could have run in this election if I hadn’t tried to run a countywide race before, I just learned so much,” Gordon said.
And one of Gordon’s biggest strengths very well could be support from people he had previously run elections against.
Timmons says he’s supporting Gordon.
“I think Frank’s an honest man and in politics that’s hard to do sometimes,” Timmons said. “He says it like he feels it.He shows compassion. I don’t think he likes to hurt people’s feelings and he always comes across as confident in himself. And he’s a good listener and I’ve been able to change his mind on some things. All of those qualities give him good integrity and I like him.”
Lawrence says he supports Gordon, as well. Mayor Bruce said even before the primary election results were known, Gordon had put one of Bruce’s signs at his business and Bruce had one of Gordon’s signs.
Gordon says his experience on the Aberdeen City Council and relationships he’s established with city officials have given him the experience he needs to be county commissioner. His time on the council’s Public Safety and Finance committees have given him key understanding of those areas of the city, he said.
But his time on the council has also given him a record to look back on.
Critical in the past
Two years ago, amid debate over a potential rate hike for the city of Cosmopolis, Gordon criticized Aberdeen city officials for subsidizing the rate too much.
“Maybe the time has come for then to just incorporate into Aberdeen,” Gordon said at the time. “We could say ‘Welcome to Ward ’ They could even continue to call themselves Cosmopolis.”
The comments stirred the ire of Cosmopolis Mayor Vickie Raines, who is not supporting Gordon’s candidacy. Raines, who chairs the Chehalis Basin Flood Authority, says she’s also irritated by recent comments Gordon made in opposition to the Flood Authority.
“When I’m commissioner, I’ll find a way to get along with her,” Gordon pledged, adding that he does think that Aberdeen, Cosmopolis and Hoquiam ought to share costs more. “As a commissioner, maybe I can help.”
In the summer of 2010, Gordon surprised his fellow council members by unfurling a giant banner on the floor of his council chambers that stated, “Want to know how to make a GHOST TOWN? Call Aberdeen Building Department.”
Gordon still won’t say who gave him the banner, only that the publicity fended off the potential of those banners going up all over town.
“I think the business climate in the city is better than it’s ever been,” Gordon said.
Gordon said he would not be afraid to create another kind of spectacle at the county if he had to prove a similar point.
Gordon says being outspoken is his asset. He cites a time when he went to confront the PUD commissioners last year after discovering the PUD had allowed Grays Harbor Paper to operate for 18 years with a delinquent electric account before the company folded last year.
“Why are there different kinds of rules between certain business groups and the regular ratepayer?” he wanted to know.
Gordon said the incident was spurred because he and his wife Pat had just paid the electric bills of two retired women they knew, who were a week away from getting their power shut off.
“Their social security retirement didn’t come for two weeks, but they needed to pay it in a week and that really rubbed me wrong that the PUD would treat them, differently,” Gordon said.
Gordon says he will not be “painted into a corner” by refusing to ever raise taxes, a common talking point made by his county commission opponent.
“I’m anti-tax,” he says. “I don’t like taxes. But I think it could be useful to raise taxes as a last resort.”
In 2010 and 2011, Gordon voted with the majority of his council against potential property tax increases at the city of Aberdeen. He was also vocal against utility rate hikes during those years.
Sales tax hike
However, Gordon supports a countywide sales tax increase that focuses on transportation projects that could be shared back with the cities. He says such a tax hike could help cities like Aberdeen fund their pavement projects or, it could help other cities use the steady stream of transportation revenue to focus on other priorities, such as public safety spending. He also has supported a citywide sales tax increase for transportation projects, although he wonders if that may have to be delayed because of planned rate hikes.
This year, Gordon supports increasing rates on the city’s monthly utility bill. Altogether, a $104.34 monthly utility bill today could go up $10.26 more to $114.60, if approved by the council by the end of the year.
Yet, just a year ago, Gordon was decrying a potential $5.40 monthly increase to utility rates, saying “a utility tax is a death tax. It’s just a killer for our seniors.”
Gordon said he still thinks seniors will have a hard time paying increased rates while living on a fixed income, but he doesn’t see much of an option unless the city of Aberdeen drains most of its reserves to pay for services. It’s been four years since some of the rates have gone up.
“Maybe we waited too long,” he said. “We’re really caught between the devil and the deep.”
Gordon says he’s not against giving public employees raises. He’s voted in favor of union contracts granting a 3 percent raise for most city employees and 2.7 raises for police officers and firefighters. After approving a firefighter contract last year, he called on the city to “end the gravy train” and said that hard choices would have to be made “on who is going to get cut.”
This year’s proposed budget by Mayor Simpson doesn’t offer any major cuts and relies more on reserves.
Gordon said he’s still reviewing the mayor’s budget but does favor looking for more cuts.
“I’m in favor of a ‘share the pain’ concept, which is what I’d bring to the county,” he said.
At the county level, Gordon said he is not in favor of across-the-board cuts “because there are certain things we are mandated to do by state laws.”
“So right off the bat you have this basket of cuts — the law says we have to have this and that — and the cuts don’t work the way you want them to,” Gordon said.
Gordon said he thinks if mandatory layoff days are imposed by the commissioners, it should be in effect for everyone, not just a few dozen employees.
And he says the county ought to do a better job with its tourism campaigns during the off-seasons and promote off-the-beaten path destinations a bit more, such as Kurt Cobain Landing in Aberdeen.
“Kurt Cobain could help drive up tourism, which is the cleanest kind of money we can get to help our businesses,” he said.
Gordon has rarely attended county commissioner meetings this past year. He says if he doesn’t like the budget the commissioners approve, he’ll push for a supplemental budget to make changes in the first few months of the year, plus, he notes, there’s no way to know what actions the state Legislature will take to impact the county budget.
“What’s happening right now I have no control over and in all honestly, whoever wins, it’s going to be brand new days,” he said.
Gordon and his wife, Pat, have owned Gordon Electric for the past 40 years. In the same building, they also have a salon that Pat works in. Gordon, 70, says he’s prepared to turn most of his business over to his employees so he can devote himself full-time to the county.
Gordon is also a regular runner. During the campaign, he completed a half-marathon. The Air Force veteran has also done recent “warrior dashes” ducking under barbed wire, jumping through swamps and climbing walls.
“I was probably the oldest guy there by 20-some years, but it’s just fun,” he said.
Before entering the political realm, most folks on the Harbor may know Gordon only from his reader board outside his business where he updates the number of soldiers who have died in combat. He started the count after the war in Iraq began in 2003 and expanded it later to include the war in Afghanistan.
“When I first had the sign, I lost a lot of jobs and was accused of being a communist and leftist,” Gordon said. “Now, I get honks. I get thumbs up. It’s been so long since I’ve gotten anything negative.”