Olympia City Council Position 4

Incumbent Clark Gilman vs. challenger Candace Mercer

WATCH: League of Women Voters candidate forum.


Editor’s Note: Campaign contributions and expenditures are the amounts reported to the state Public Disclosure Commission as of October 20.


Clark Gilman

Raised: $14,098.

Spent: $3,910

Full list of contributions and expenditures.

Campaign information: WebsiteFacebook

In your last conversation with a homeless person, what did you talk about? What did you learn? How will that influence your actions on issues that come before the City Council?

In my last conversation with an unhoused person we talked with a resident about the potential relocation of the Mitigation Site. I learned that hot water in the community kitchen area and wi-fi would make a huge difference to the people living in the Mitigation Site. I learned that the micro-shelters are performing well and those modest shelters provide the security of a locked door for better sleeping at night and safeguarding possessions during the day. The specific feedback from people living the experience of homelessness and the experience of people using our services is invaluable in deciding what next steps to take.

 Part of the discussion regarding unhoused people during this election season has been that they should be held accountable. If you believe that is the case, who should unhoused people be accountable to, and what should they be accountable for?

I believe that we are each accountable to God, however a person understands the creator. I believe that our judgments about other people live inside our own heads, informed by our own experiences, hopes, and wounds. I think it’s generally better that those judgments don’t escape our lips and travel the world to hurt other people.

A community is held together by expectations of mutual respect, of hope for all of our children, and of a belief in the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have done to you”. I believe we should all be accountable for our actions to the degree we are capable. This includes treating each other with respect, giving the benefit of the doubt, and taking a chance on a stranger.

I disagree that unhoused people should be held personally accountable for their lack of housing, lack of employment that pays a living wage, or their lack of access to mental health or substance use disorder resources. Do unhoused people have the power and the resources to create stable housing, jobs that pay a living wage, or a substance treatment facility? 

I don’t think it’s the person battling demons and begging on the street corner who is accountable for this situation. I think it’s you and I.

 Have you ever lost your housing or been in danger of losing your housing? If so, what did you do? What advice do you have for people facing this situation?

We spent many years living paycheck to paycheck and experiencing housing insecurity. I worked for cash under the table on construction jobs when we were a young family. We always looked for the least expensive rentals in the want ads. When a place we lived in was sold to a new investor owner we were unable to find a place we could afford and we moved into a room in a shared house. When our rent went up in another house we took in a housemate. We purchased our house by combining households with my mother. And more recently, when I lost my job during the mortgage crash recession we rented part of the house to hang on to the house. 

My advice for people who face losing their housing and ridiculous rent increases is that “doubling up” or sharing a place to live is the most immediate and effective rent reduction strategy. That is true according to social scientists and it is true to my life experience.

 In your last conversation with an Olympia Police Department officer, what did you talk about? What did you learn? How will that influence your actions on issues that come before the City Council?

In my last conversation with OPD officers I learned about efforts to distribute the “Slow Down” signs created in partnership with the Olympia School District. During my visit I watched a long-time officer mentor a younger officer. I learned that the young officer was free to dream up his own ideas for ways to get the signs out into neighborhoods.

This paints a picture, to my eyes, of good people who serving on Olympia Police Department, trying their best each day to serve the community. Some officers I’ve spoken to embrace the new de-escalation responses like having social workers attend to a person in mental health crisis. Other officers I’ve spoken to are skeptical of these changes. All are waiting for clear direction from City leadership to move forward.

Hearing from the people who do the work everyday influences my actions on the policies that come before City Council. I respect the knowledge held by people who implement our policies. My conversations with Police Officers, Fire Fighters, Municipal Court staff, and the City Prosecutor have shown me that the caring and experienced people who do public safety work today want to be part of eliminating bias and creating a more equitable justice system. I have also heard loud and clear that staff recognize they are often interacting with people in crisis who have unmet needs. They are also clear that there are few resources (especially for housing or health care) to point folks towards.

 What three qualities and three skills should the city make priorities when choosing a new police chief? Why are these priorities? Do you favor delaying the search until the city completes its Reimagining Public Safety effort?

I will share my opinion about choosing a new chief of police. But, I want to make it clear that the “city” doesn’t choose a new police chief, and City Council is not involved in the recruitment or selection. The City Manager has sole authority to hire his department directors, that’s part of our form of government.

I want our new Police Chief to be a confident delegator rather than a micro manager. I hope that our new Police Chief comes to us as a believer in Reimagining Public Safety to create a more equitable public safety system that does not rely upon the threat of violence to intervene in a crisis or protect officers safety. I want our new Police Chief to engage as part of our Olympia community and to cooperate as part of our City staff – and to encourage his officers to do the same.

I support the City Manager’s decision to move forward quickly with a search for a new Police Chief. I believe that the general direction and intent of Reimagining Public Safety is well established, and that Reimagining will be a process of continuous improvement. I look forward to more community engagement, more work from our advisory committees, and more listening and learning.

 An individual you know comes to you asking for advice on whether to be vaccinated against COVID-19. What do you tell this person?

If I didn’t trust aerospace engineers I wouldn’t fly, if I didn’t trust the scientists who develop lubricants my car wouldn’t run for long. I am not an expert, and I don’t understand exactly how the vaccine works inside my body, but I do know that we have had too many people die both directly from COVID-19 and because COVID patients are displacing other people from hospital treatment.

I was talking with a neighbor recently who initially chose not to get vaccinated out of concern the vaccine was experimental, then felt it was causing bad side effects, then heard it was a violation of Constitutional freedoms. As time passed the fear of the vaccination built up – kind of like when you realize you still have a tool you borrowed 6 months ago just inside your garage door, and you put off returning it and instead worry about and think about it everyday.

It’s time to grab a friend, walk into the pharmacy, ask for the jab 

This fight against the pandemic is bigger than you or I as individuals. The vaccination is not about personal protection, it is about being part of a community intent on slowing this virus and preventing the unnecessary deaths of more people in our community.  

In your last conversation with an Olympia small business person, what did you talk about? What did you learn? How will that influence your actions on issues that come before the City Council?

In my last conversation with an Olympia small business person we talked about the 4th Avenue closure for Franklin St. improvements. We talked about ways to help businesses survive yet another impact, we talked about opportunities created by the street closure.

I learned more about the impacts of our street project on nearby businesses, about the resilience of those businesses, and more details about our street project so that I could better answer questions. This interaction will influence my actions on Council as we continue to seek ways to support small businesses surviving the economic impacts of the COVID pandemic, and as we turn our attention back to the long view of a vibrant downtown welcoming to everybody.


Candace Mercer

Candy Mercer

Raised: $8,698 

Spent: $7,335

Full list of contributions and expenditures.

Campaign information: WebsiteFacebook

In your last conversation with a homeless person, what did you talk about? What did you learn? How will that influence your actions on issues that come before the City Council?

I used to take the 62 bus and had frequent and interesting conversations, I now take paratransit so they are fewer. The many stories I have collected in my past 4 years of writing on homeless response inform my perspective as well.

My last conversation was near the dumpster at the Jungle where I will talk to people while waiting for my paratransit. I could tell this gentleman had been living rough for quite a bit.

We exchanged greetings and I told him who I was and I was running for Olympia City Council, and I wanted to know, what did he need right now? 

He mumbled, “agudwmn.”

I said “Excuse me?”

He spoke a bit more clearly, “A good woman.”

I was not sure if he was hitting on me, I did not feel threatened, but I played it straight. “Well sir, I can understand that need, but as a candidate, that is not a promise I can make.”

He replied, “Every good man needs a good woman.”

I told him I could agree on that, it felt like w had a bit of a moment, and he rode off, hopefully to find Ms. Right.

I was not sure to share that or speak to the last conversation I had with my friend, a former meth dealer who lived in the Jungle and has been brutally honest in answering my questions, allowing me to ask the hard ones. He described how for him the Jungle was a choice and that he made $2K a week sometimes selling meth. He was a good businessman, he bought wholesale and went with the 711 model of selling smaller quantities at higher prices and getting it due to the convenience factor, he served the residents of the Jungle and Ensign Street.

His wake up was getting arrested, he asked himself, his words, “Why am I being so STUPID?” He is getting clean, has a job, and just got an apartment. He is doing well beyond his dreams. He did what many think is impossible. It has been hard, make no mistake he had to put effort in every step of the way. He wants to help others and that is why he is helping me, he knows I will be a force for good for those living in the camps.

As to the other gentleman, while it is a light story, it does point to the reality, we have to give up the illusion that the city is magically going to save the people in the camps. We are making promises we cannot keep and I find that problematic. I have heard this feedback from many in the camps, policy makers just do not get it. 87% of Olympians are unhappy with homeless response, and I can tell you, based on my interviews, most of the people camping are unhappy too.

Part of the discussion regarding unhoused people during this election season has been that they should be held accountable. If you believe that is the case, who should unhoused people be accountable to, and what should they be accountable for?

I do believe that to be the case, that they should be accountable in the same ways as other people, there should not be two sets of rules and expectations, one for those in houses and one for those in camps. Specifically, first of all, people have a responsibility to care for themselves. Nothing, no program, no money can replace agency and personal accountability. 

Especially for those in the camps, we cannot use force to make them change, it has to come from within, and only they can do the hard work of getting out and getting sober. It may feel impossible but it is not. There is a video on my YT channel where I talk about the Art of the Impossible. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsAu1dpgyapfou1d4z-_09A/videos

Humans are capable of doing hard things. Living in the camps is very hard. Our council calls this group our most vulnerable, but I disagree, which I speak to in another video on my channel. Many people have told me they find this term insulting as it denies their strengths. When they hear it, I am told, they hear someone using them. 

I agree. I do not see victims in the camps. They have been victimized for sure, but they are resourceful, resilient and have grit. They are surviving in a way most of us could not. I recognize this and refuse to treat them as children. I respect their agency and in their core strengths I see great potential.

If you are going to live in a community and be accepted, you need to be accountable for your behavior within that community. You need to show respect and want to be a part of the community. Open drug use and dealing is not respecting the community. Stealing is not respecting the community. Defiling the environment is not respecting the community. I can move on to the violence and sexual assault that goes on in the camps. There have been no boundaries and we are seeing the predictable results of human nature to push those boundaries.

In the progressive world there is a lot of talk about accountability, but that is suspended when it comes to the uncomfortable truth around the camps and the behavior of some of the residents. It is hard for me to believe that the people who have been harmed are the ones who are often shamed or told to have compassion. That is problematic.

It is also uncomfortable, but as in the example I cite in #1, law enforcement intervention CAN have a catalyst effect. I have heard far too many success stories to deny it, even if it is not what people want to believe. I am not going to dismiss those narratives because they do not fit my narrative.

Have you ever lost your housing or been in danger of losing your housing? If so, what did you do? What advice do you have for people facing this situation?

Yes, more than once I have lost housing due to being lower income and not being able to afford it. I am currently in a pretty bad situation. My rent is now 150% of my Social Security disability. I have stayed housed in Olympia for a decade on an income of under $15K a year without any housing aid. I personally know what is working and what is not when it comes to our safety net. I also see perverse incentives in the system that make it even harder.

In three years my rent went from $900 (95% of my income) to $1500. I have survived with steely fiscal discipline and a patchwork of programs. Right now I am staying housed due to COVID related federal funding which is going to end.

I am being evicted in March or soon after so the landlord can remodel the house so he can charge more rent. It is the best economic decision for his family, I can bear him no ill will, but it leaves me in a precarious place. The wait list for subsidized places is long, the wait list for a Section 8 voucher is impossible to even get on, they have random lotteries, the last time was in 2020. 

If I am housed, I cannot get certain aid. For example, to get a slot in the new project at 2828 Martin Way, which is built for people like me, low income disabled, I would have to be on the street, being evicted is not enough. This goes against Housing First doctrine, one of the toplines being prevention. That is what I talk about when I say perverse incentives. Coordinated entry may seen fair, but it is not helping people stay housed as well as it could be.

A Lot of money is going into cleaning up the camps and maintaining the camps, I am not seeing the same focus on other low income people who are truly vulnerable, elderly, disabled, youth, single parents, they do not get the attention or money that is locally spent on the camps.

I am applying everywhere I can, after the election I am going to sell as many possessions as I can to both raise money and be ready for a much smaller space. I will be working with Community Action Council to get any aid available. I am not running for the salary, but being honest, getting that would help my housing situation immensely. 

My advice? There is not much out there other than the COVID aid which I have been encouraging people to apply for. Otherwise, be prepared to rely on yourself to solve the problem, it is going to take a high degree of effort to find appropriate housing. If you can move somewhere cheaper, do so. I hate to say it, but I am not going to sugarcoat it like the other people who have no clue what it takes to survive in Olympia on $15K a year.

4. In your last conversation with an Olympia Police Department officer, what did you talk about? What did you learn? How will that influence your actions on issues that come before the City Council?

On September 3rd, I spoke with Lieutenant Costello. I had been planning a campaign rally, sign giveaway and video shoot for my campaign at City Hall on Saturday September 4th. 

On Monday I found out Antifa had decided to target my event to shut it down, they put out a regional call to action out. The goal was not to protest and allow me to carry on, it was to intimidate me into not having the event or ending it early. When I got wind of this, I called OPD to brief them. 

On Friday, I found out that people had seen on social media that the Proud Boys had seen Antifa’s plans and were going to White Knight in to protect me. I did not ask for this intervention. I had no contacts in that world. 

I immediately called OPD to warn them that Antifa and the Proud Boys were gearing up to fight at City Hall at 3 pm on Saturday. Lt. Costello took all the information I had and I asked him, “Can I count on you to protect me?” His answer: “You should be prepared to protect yourself.”

That is not the answer you want to hear when you are being targeted by armed vigilante groups filled with zealotry. Their hands off response is in part due to the Council removing many of their tools for crowd control including chemical dispersants. I will note it was Antifa who pressured the Council into taking that action, yet Antifa uses those weapons themselves, including on September 4th.

The Proud Boys chased Antifa from City Hall, Antifa led them to the Transit Center where a white man shot a POC. He fired his gun 5 times. The bullet marks are still in the post. I reported on this and the video can be found here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXbzJ70IRQc

This is the type of lawlessness this council has emboldened with their soft approach to Antifa. My opponent, Clark Gilman, in the midst of the violence and property destruction in 2020, wrote “A Love Letter to My Friends in Black.” Antifa still went to his house, threw white paint on it and two of his cars. Mayor Selby literally took the knee to Antifa and they have relentlessly abused her. 

They have had a campaign of intimidation against me to get me to drop out of the race. This has included video, print and a campaign of phone abuse. After September 4th, I went before Council and asked them to denounce the violence against me and the POC. https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=516555779752424&id=100041940196963

Not one of them did and CM Yen Huynh took the chance to victim blame me, choosing to believe Antifa’s disinformation campaign against me over my 25 years of progressive activism in Olympia, including nearly a decade with the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice.

 What three qualities and three skills should the city make priorities when choosing a new police chief? Why are these priorities? Do you favor delaying the search until the city completes its Reimagining Public Safety effort?

Three qualities: proven record of leadership and the ability to work with a force that has been demoralized and get them back to a healthier place, ability to apply the law fairly and without prejudice and someone who can understand the difference between peaceful and violent protest, not harming the peaceful protesters, but making sure the violent ones are doing harm.

These are priorities given the situation we have right now in Olympia. 

No, I do not. We need this done now. More people are being harmed while people talk theory.

I do not see OPD as the problem. I have studied every high profile incident involving them since 2015, and had been paying attention before then due to being an activist and having to work with them on protests etc. I was the only journalist to cover the shooting of two black men and the subsequent investigation for Works in Progress here: https://olywip.org/author/cm/

There are parts of that investigation I do not agree with, but I feel the process was transparent. I have read thousands of pages of FOIA documents and I have not seen evidence of racism, systemic or otherwise. I see policies around de-escalation when it comes to the protests. I have also reviewed threat analysis and operating plans for protests that are violent and I do not see a desire to make things worse with escalation.

But as on September 4th, their hands off stance led to a shooting. That is not acceptable to the person who was shot, the community who was put in peril, and the businesses who will lose customers out of fear. Had OPD been in force at City Hall, it is not hard to see how the day might have turned out differently. They were warned, September 4th did not have to happen.

An individual you know comes to you asking for advice on whether to be vaccinated against COVID-19. What do you tell this person?

I would tell them to find a medical provider to discuss their concerns with. I am not that person to be giving that advice. If they had religious objections, I would counsel them to talk with a spiritual leader. If they had reticence over the science I would urge them to look at primary source studies and try to make sense of them. I would tell them to weigh their risk factors and act accordingly. 

I would not urge people to do something with their bodies they are not comfortable with, I am not OK with medical coercion under any circumstances. Bodily integrity is a first principle I will not compromise.

In your last conversation with an Olympia small business person, what did you talk about? What did you learn? How will that influence your actions on issues that come before the City Council?

There really have been too many to count going into campaign season. I have been meeting them constantly in forums and while generally campaigning. I also collected and heard their stories in the past four years as I wrote on homeless response. This is not some special thing for me to do.

I have learned there is a deep discontent as to how the city is being run. This is confirmed by a City of Olympia survey that reports 87% of Olympians believe homeless response is on the wrong track, 77% do not feel safe downtown at night and 70% want increased law enforcement presence.

The Council refuses to listen. I was at the retreat when the survey dropped, I report on it here: https://candacemercer.medium.com/87-of-olympia-residents-unhappy-with-citys-homeless-response-1b3bc7a852d1

Instead of even a moment of self reflection or examination as to what might be the problem, or maybe calling in a crisis management consultant, they rationalized the problem as being communications, that residents simply do not know all the good things they are doing. This was sincere, and jaw dropping. 

They refuse to hear the voices of business people and residents who have spoken eloquently and vividly about their pain, they now are dismissing a carefully designed and administered survey. 

So they spent $500K on communications salaries. Despite this they have still not released the survey to the public. It can only be found on an obscure link on a June 15th meeting page (link is in my article). It is not on the city website, it is not on Engage Olympia and they did not send it out in an email. 

Most residents are not aware of the survey. I was the only journalist to cover it. But word got out in the business community, in many of the forums like with the Chamber, Kiwana’s, Rotary there have been pointed questions to which this council deflects.

They take no accountability as to their responsibility for keeping this city safe and functioning. In 2017, 90% (!) of residents were happy with how the city is run. Today that number is 23%. THAT cannot be blamed on communications failure as communications were even less then.

The Council has lost control of the city. They cannot even provide basic public safety anymore to its residents and businesses. They are failing the people in the camps. They are failing the community.

Are you OK with this? 

The real crisis in Olympia is lack of leadership.

I love Olympia.

I will fight for Olympia. 

I will not give up on Olympia.

On November 2nd, vote for change.

On November 2nd, vote for courage.

Thank you for listening.

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By Mindy Chambers

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