Olympia City Council Position 4 Candidates

Incumbent Clark Gilman vs. Challenger Candace Mercer

Heard around Olympia:

“I don’t know anything about these people.”

What people? These people: The 14 who are running for five seats on the Olympia City Council. Of the five races, four have primary races involving three candidates. In each of the four, two will advance based on the August 3 primary election results.

That’s a lot of candidates, and it is unusual for five seats to be up for grabs in a single year. The races are non-partisan and despite the fact that council candidates run for a position, all are elected “at-large,” meaning city residents may vote in all five races. 

Also in the large number category, and sure to grow exponentially leading up to the November general election, is the amount of money the 14 have raised – a total of nearly $225,000. 

Ballots hit mailboxes this week, along with glossy campaign literature touting candidates’ credentials, accomplishments and endorsements.

It’s a lot to sort through and digest. So The Olympia Tribune decided to let the candidates tell you about themselves in answers to eight questions that delve into their knowledge of the council, their priorities and specific things they hope to accomplish if elected. 

Council members earn $22,000 and a $3,800 benefit stipend per year and serve four-year terms, unless they are filling the remainder of a term for a seat left vacant by a resignation, as is the case this year. The council is responsible for passing the annual city budget and appoints and directly oversees the city manager, who is in charge of day-to-day operations, including those of the Olympia Police Department. Members prepare for and attend weekly council and council committee meetings, serving on regional boards such as Intercity Transit and take constituent phone calls, among their many tasks. In all, that often amounts to more than 40 hours a week, typically on top of their full- or part-time jobs. 

In the past four years, and especially in the recent past, council members have wrestled with the incredibly thorny issues of police reform; public safety; incorporating equity and diversity and inclusion into how the city does its daily business; homelessness and housing; neighborhood zoning; property purchases and use; pandemic-related issues experienced by small businesses and their employees, workers at a high risk due to COVID 19, landlords and renters, and others; and how the city communicates what it is doing. 

These issues, and others that certainly can’t be anticipated now (who, after all, could have predicted the pandemic and its fallout), will be before the council in 2022 and beyond. Who gets elected to the council really does matter – it’s where issues vitally important to our community are debated and decided. 

Also, The Tribune encourages you to vote!

The Thurston County Auditor’s Elections Division has mailed more than 187,000 ballots for the Aug. 3 primary.  
 
If you are registered and have not received a ballot by Wednesday, July 21, please contact the Auditor’s Office at (360) 786-5408 or elections@co.thurston.wa.us.

You may vote by mail (no stamp required) or return your ballot at one of the 29 secure ballot drop boxes available throughout the county. A list of locations and addresses is included in the mailed ballot materials and online at ThurstonVotes.org.
 
Ballots must be postmarked by August 3. Please check mailboxes for pickup times to make sure your ballot will be postmarked by Election Day. If you miss your household’s mail pickup time, ballot drop boxes are open until 8 p.m. on Aug. 3. 
 
You can register to vote, get a replacement ballot and vote using an accessibility voting device at the Voting Center located at 2400 Evergreen Park Dr. SW, Olympia, WA 98502.  Drive-through voter services are available at this location. The center is open:

  • July 14 through August 2, Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • On Election Day, Tuesday, August 3, 2021, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Any voter in line at the voting center at 8 p.m. on Election Day can vote. 

The Candidates

Position 4

League of Women Voters candidate forum: None because no primary in this race.

Note: Campaign contributions and expenditures are the amounts reported to the state Public Disclosure Commission as of July 16.

Clark Gilman

Raised: $8,312. Find a full list of contributors here.

Spent: $2,059

Campaign information: WebsiteFacebook

Why do you want to be on the Olympia City Council?

I want to be on the Olympia City Council because I believe I bring skills and experience that help me fight for the ordinary person. I want to stay on City Council because I feel like I have learned a lot about the city during my time on Council, built relationships and got better at explaining community interests and concerns to my Council colleagues and staff.

What does an Olympia City Council Member do?

I see the job of being on City Council as having two separate primary responsibilities. The first is as a trustee watching over the City budget and efficient delivery of services like water, streets, fire and police. The second responsibility is as a community leader, hearing from the community, learning continuously about the work of the City, and building relationships with other leaders across Thurston County.

City Council was responsible for Olympia entering the world of social services and emergency housing. We are also responsible for moving social services staff from contracted services to direct hire City employees. This is an example of Council people initiating policy. In my experience City Council rarely initiates or shapes policy, but has opportunities to review and consider staff proposals and often requests modifications to those staff policy proposals. 

Why did you choose to run for the position you selected (if you are an incumbent, why are you running again)?

I was appointed to Position 4 when Cheryl Selby was elected Mayor. This does not carry any particular status or seating location, nor do Council positions represent geographic districts. Because we are all elected “at large” (everyone in Olympia votes for all positions) the specific position is not significant once elected. I believe it is significant to look at the other City Council races, compare who has endorsed and donated to campaigns and understand why a candidate chose to challenge a particular incumbent.

What sets you apart from your competition (if you’re running against an incumbent, why do you feel you would do a better job than them)?

I think that what sets me apart from my challenger is that I have a proven record of balancing working hard at the day-to-day work of running the City while also always asking for a more just and humane city.

What is the ONE issue you are most passionate about? What are three action items you would push for on that issue, if elected? 

I believe passionately that Olympia can create a more equitable community, I am convinced that everything we do to make life better for Black people will also benefit all community members. Dismantling 400 years of intentional and systemic racism is a huge challenge, and the collapse of the white supremacy house of cards has brought very real fear and uncertainty. These difficult changes are a blessing and an opportunity to my way of seeing. There is nothing I want more than for people of color and second language English speakers to move through Olympia receiving respect and equal acceptance. 

Three action items to address systemic racism in Olympia.

What is one thing the existing council has done really well, and one thing you’d do differently?

The City Council listened to many people and made some tough decisions through the One Community process to create a long-term approach to the lack of housing, medical care, and daytime places to be for our most vulnerable community members. I am very proud of the work of Council and city staff.

One thing I will do differently, is to bring more specific action proposals for addressing inequality, racism, and displacement. I feel that I have spent too much time on the defense explaining why I disagree with actions taken.

On a scale of 1-10, how important is the diversity and equity work the city now is engaged in? Please explain why you feel that way.

10. We have begun diversity and equity work that is hugely important, work that challenges us to question or most basic assumptions about how the world works. 

Imagine the possibilities for Olympia is we create a community where every kid growing up here can dream big and realize their potential!

I rate this a 10 because if we don’t keep it on the top of our list we will soon turn away from this work that is both individually and institutionally challenging.

Say three nice things about downtown Olympia.

So much delicious food. I visited with Pon this weekend, she opened Nou Thai during the pandemic. She has spent the pandemic remodeling the interior space into something really special.

Live music and beautiful art across downtown Olympia. We are uniquely blessed to have so many great musicians and artists and a calendar full of community events to celebrate that rich culture. This weekend I watched The Bridge Music Project’s Dance Battle and heard the Black Tones at the Love Oly Fest. We window shopped at Childhood’s End and enjoyed our first visit to Underhill Plants.

Olympia, it’s the people!  Whether it’s a walk along Percival Landing with a friend, playing music with Oly-A at the Senior Center, saying hello to a shop or restaurant owner, or a sidewalk chat with someone I just met, I go downtown to be with people. I really love the people of Olympia, and that’s the biggest reason I serve on City Council.

Candace Mercer

Raised: $2,513. Find a full list of contributors here.

Spent: $1,732

Campaign information: WebsiteFacebook

Why do you want to be on the Olympia City Council?

The real crisis in Olympia is not equity, or even homelessness, it is lack of leadership. Healing and housing Olympia will be a challenge but I have faith in our creative DIY tradition that we can do it, but we need leadership to inspire and support resident’s and businesses’ hard work. I want to lead from the dais because I will approach our problems with intellectual honesty and I will be relentless. I will fight for Olympia and I will never give up.

What does an Olympia City Council Member do?

A CM sets policy directions for the City Manager and other staff to find ways to implement. 

Why did you choose to run for the position you selected (if you are an incumbent, why are you running again)?

I am running against the entire council. I would have slotted well against any opponent and could run a winning campaign. I waited to announce to see how the field shaped up. I will note, mine is the only race to go to the general without a primary. That did not happen by accident. 

My project and goal is to flip the entire council in favor of politically diverse indie candidates who will make a good team. I evaluated candidates for balance of skill and competence. 

I am endorsing Spence Weigand, Wendy Carlson, Robbie Kesler and Corey Gauny. Weigand for his real estate knowledge, Wendy for her work at rehabilitating people, Robbie for her legal knowledge and Corey for his tech and project management skills. I am an activist and will be the driving force for change. 

This is an A+ team of people willing to serve at the hardest possible time, their courage and proven leadership are also a factor in my choice of endorsements. I rejected any candidate who did not have a primary focus on the top three issues facing Olympia: homelessness, affordable housing and public safety. 

What sets you apart from your competition (if you’re running against an incumbent, why do you feel you would do a better job than them)?

I have the best qualifications to tackle the top three issues facing Olympia: homelessness, affordable housing and public safety. I have been a leader as an activist in Olympia for 25 years.
 
For the past four years I have studied and reported on homeless response. I have read thousands of FOIA docs, done research, interviewed hundreds of people, and collected harrowing stories of harm. I have also studied housing policy and researched what needs to change. My doctrine can be found here: https://candacemercer.medium.com/the-real-crisis-in-olympia-is-not-homelessness-ad68199ab708
 
I have spent 6 years researching and reporting on every high profile incident involving OPD. Here is my work on the shooting and investigation of the Chaplin Thompson shooting in 2015. https://olywip.org/author/cm/
 
My work was used in the men’s defense in court and is the only in depth record that exists. I have read a few thousand pages of FOIA documents around OPD response, including to protests and political violence. No other candidate has this depth of knowledge on a critical issue facing Olympia.
 

The new council will be picking a new police chief. The council is wasting a year to “reimagine” public safety as people get victimized at an alarming rate. Theft is normalized and excused as “survival crime,” not the decision of one human to harm another. Victims of assaults are shamed and told to be compassionate toward their attackers. 70% of Olympians increased law enforcement presence.

According to the 2021 Community Values survey commissioned by the Council, only 14% of Olympia residents feel the council hears them. I have yet to meet a voter who is defending the incumbents and most are a hard no.

What is the ONE issue you are most passionate about? What are three action items you would push for on that issue, if elected? Be as specific as possible.

I will have a relentless focus on solving homelessness. Encampments are not “a cost effective solution” to the homeless problem as one member of our current council has advanced. They are indefensible by any standard. Progressives should be ashamed for supporting, encouraging and wanting to maintain camps. I will not give up on these people.
 
1. I will look for ways to get people inside sooner than later. Repurposing empty real estate into dorm style housing. Removing friction from setting up cohousing to connect people with extra space with people who need a room. Boarding houses and SROs. We do not have the luxury of time. I will work with the private sector to find wins.
 
We can work on longer term housing solutions as we make wise use of   grant money coming our way. Permanent supportive housing is necessary for some, but not most. I want to make it so people can get a locked private space indoors for $500.
 
2. I want to inspire those in the camps to value their life and to know they have the resourcefulness and resilience to do better. I want to change the conversation around substance abuse and treat it as the chronic health problem it is.
 
I see a role for medical outreach to start urging people toward health by addressing their needs. Primary care can do wonders for many people. I want to set the tone that change is possible and work to facilitate a mentorship program of former campers who got out to go into the camps.
 
3. For some camping and street subculture is their chosen way of life and they have adapted. We have to approach this group with intellectual honesty. They need more help than just housing, many are overwhelmed by basic life skills. We need transitional housing models to help the chronic homeless integrate into housing. Even with programs, some will still preference freedom and that is a problem to solve.
 
Our mitigation site is constrained to being low barrier, which while allowing shelter to substance abusers it does not reflect the needs of those on a path to sobriety. I am going to propose that private development of urban camping sites (especially RV sites) must be allowed. These could be expanded to include tiny house villages.
 
There are many advantages to privatizing this effort. First of all, they could be set up to allow for sober living which would be helpful for those in recovery. They could also target other groups. Older people, younger people etc. Again, the idea is to get people in better situations where they can work their way up to traditional housing.
 
87% of Olympia is unhappy with the current model because it is clearly not working. It is time for a new approach, one that takes into the account the rights of all community members to live in safety. There is compassion in boundaries, dignity in reciprocal relationships and integrity in personal agency.

What is one thing the existing council has done really well, and one thing you’d do differently? 100 words over.
 

They have done an amazing job at destroying the quality of life in Olympia.  The discontent is made clear in the results of the 2021 Community Values survey, which the city has not yet released publicly. I am the only reporter to cover it.  

People are scared in our city (77% are afraid in downtown at night). They are ashamed of our city and they are leaving our city. An overwhelming amount of renters lack housing security due to rent increases, in part due to property tax increases.  People cannot afford to buy a house or raise a family here. There is little support for the workforce. A large percentage of people do not feel accepted here and only 14% feel listened to.

  
I have never seen the city so politically engaged. Until 4 years ago, I never knew all seven of my CM names, and neither did most residents. Because things were working. Usually an incumbent has a huge advantage due to name recognition. Not this year. I have yet to meet a voter who has anything positive to say or who is planning to vote for an incumbent. Most are a hard no.
 
I share their anger and discontent. I would not be running if my city was being managed well.
  

On a scale of 1-10, how important is the diversity and equity work the city now is engaged in? Please explain why you feel that way.

3. We have so many bigger problems facing the community. We have anti-discrimination laws which the city is expected to follow. I have seen no issues of discrimination in Olympia in the thousands of documents I have examined, meetings I have attended or people I have interviewed. There certainly may be isolated incidents that I am not aware of, but I have investigated every high profile incident involving OPD and have seen no evidence of racism in their conduct.

I attended the latest council retreat and the DEI component was a waste of time and money. It was teaching concepts of empathy in a simplistic manner that was not inclusive as it did not focus the empathy and listening equally. 14 city employees spent a day learning material that any emotionally competent adult should have dialed in. It was offensive as well, for example this statement that went unchallenged, “Urgency is a well known concept of white supremacy.” That is state sponsored racism that cost us $2500. I am not OK with wasting money on group therapy that is dehumanizing and possible illegal.

I will not discriminate against anyone based on any identity or political affiliation. I will not intentionally shame anyone for their identity and I will not give anyone special treatment based on their identity. I will not agree to state sponsored racism. I will not agree to breaking civil rights law and I will not compromise my morals on this. I treat every human as my equal. PERIOD.

Say three nice things about downtown Olympia.

I only drink water from the artesian well.

I love our small businesses, especially the entertainment venues where I have so often enjoyed music and comedy. Not going to play favorites, but there are a couple restaurants I have especially rooted for to make it through COVID. Some did, some did not.

Its natural beauty.

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By Mindy Chambers

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