PORT TOWNSEND – Homeless people, deep political divisions, water and drugs: these are some of the local dilemmas three candidates for Port Townsend city council have strong feelings about.
The trio vying for position 5 on the board are Sky Hardesty-Thompson, 39, in his first candidacy for political office; Tyler Myles Vega, 44, a six-year resident of Port Townsend who previously ran for city council as well as Congress; and Libby Urner Wennstrom, 58, an officer in the Jefferson County Democrats.
Everyone wants to fill the seat left vacant by Pamela Adams, who is not running for re-election.
It will be the council’s only run on the August 3 primary election ballot. The first two will qualify for the general elections on November 9.
“With Tyler and I there are a lot of things we agree on, but the approach to how we would do them is different,” Wennstrom said in an interview at Aldrich’s upstairs cafe. Market last week.
She said her approach boils down to, “What can we do? It’s very hard to cross chasms in a single leap …
“I tend to be very practical,” she added.
Wennstrom has worked in event management, where the focus is on the three T’s: traffic, toilets, bins.
“If you understand correctly, no one notices. If you’re wrong, that’s all everyone is talking about.
This approach continues in the work of city council, said Wennstrom, who has lived in Port Townsend for 23 years.
The contract with Port Townsend Paper Co., which has long maintained the town’s water line, is one of the negotiations the new council will tackle over the coming year. Street maintenance is another delicate issue.
Housing – for essential workers, for people who would take a job here if they could only find a place to live – is “the iceberg. [that] came out of the water, ”Wennstrom said.
Hardesty-Thompson, a former small business owner currently on disability, spoke about the homeless people he came to know during his nine years here.
“There is a real big drug problem in this city. I don’t think people realize how bad it is, ”he said, adding that methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl are the worst of the issues.
“Most people are multi-substance addicts,” he said.
Yet other people living on the streets have mental health issues and are unfamiliar with local resources such as those at Discovery Bay Behavioral Health, added Hardesty-Thompson.
In an interview with Chetzemoka Park, Hardesty-Thompson explained how he developed trust with one person at a time – a must if the person is to be honest about their struggles.
“What I hear from a lot of them is that they have nothing to look forward to,” he said.
“They don’t have a job. They don’t know how to get there.
Vega, who is half Filipino, has lived in various situations outside of a traditional house with a courtyard. A determined political and climate activist, he sees this race for the city council as a mixture of candidates from all political backgrounds.
“This is a recurring theme for me,” he said. “All of our problems boil down to political divisions” between the “liberals”, the “progressives” and the right.
It has been a challenge to agree on a definition of “progressive,” Vega added.
Instead of going into specifics, he spent much of his interview on the patio of the Port Townsend Food Co-op, discussing how to make the city more resilient as the effects of climate change worsen. .
Vega said last month’s heat wave focused his attention on disaster preparedness. He wants the city to devote its energy to producing food as close to home as possible, ensuring a sustainable water and electricity system and, in particular, water and mist catchment systems on every roof.
“I am a computer scientist,” he said, which means he works in the IT field, both in his day-to-day work at Dailey Computer Consulting and in his political activism.
And although Vega is a musician, he says that art is not his strong point; hence the “somewhat ugly” campaign signs that dot the streets of Port Townsend.
Those “Vote Vega” signs were previously owned by Amanda Funaro, who ran for the Jefferson County commissioner last year. Vega used a stencil and spray paint to “recycle” them, he said; he and his supporters plan to put more in the time left before election day.
Wennstrom, for her part, said she had a union store in Olympia that made her signs from recycled plastic. She’s had a fair number of people commenting on the number of them out there.
“You have hundreds of them,” they said.
In fact, it was 52 last week, Wennstrom noted, adding that she was careful to ask supporters who live on busy streets to put them in their backyards.
Due to health concerns – sinus surgery and dental procedures – Hardesty-Thompson has not upped its campaign material to the level of its rivals. While recovering, he was unable to provide information in time for the Jefferson County Voters’ brochure sent out earlier this month.
But signs are in the works, and he said he’s handing out a freshly printed flyer outlining his priorities.
“I will boldly tackle the top three concerns that demand solutions: housing our workforce and low-income citizens; solutions for homelessness and substance abuse; and a business community that often feels under attack, ”we read.
“Our old rigid views must give way to progress. Ideology must give way to effective solutions. A true leader remains open to collaboration.
Hardesty-Thompson added that he seeks to stay above political labels; the race is officially non-partisan, after all.
At the board, “I will do my best to share my point of view,” he said. Yet “it is more important to get things done”.
The three council candidates participated in two forums now available for viewing online: the July 1 debate of the League of Women Voters of Jefferson County, at https://lwvwa.org/Jefferson, and last Saturday’s Housing Solutions Network forum, which can be viewed at KPTZ.org.
The ballots for the primary elections, mailed last Wednesday, must be returned by August 3.
Voters who have yet to register can do so online or by mail before this Monday – or they can register in person at the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1820 Jefferson St. The courthouse is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays. More information can be found at co.jefferson.wa.us under Quick Links and Elections.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, Senior Reporter in Jefferson County, can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]