In some interesting ways, the race for Tacoma mayor parallels that of our country’s most recent presidential election, and these similarities are worth noting. On one side we have Jim Merritt, an outsider to government with no history of serving in political office. Sure, he has helped with certain projects around the city in his profession as an architect, but his knowledge of Tacoma’s government policies and the city’s inner machinations pale in comparison to his competitor. Not to mention that suspicions of him overstating his local accomplishments were confirmed last week when Point Ruston developer Loren Cohen sent a cease-and-desist letter to Merritt demanding that he stop his “false, misleading…illegal passing off of yourself as the architect of Point Ruston,” as Merritt has taken credit for in interviews and in the voters guide. (See also this week’s Letter to the Editor at right.)
Victoria Woodards has been in the trenches of local politics and community-based efforts for 30 years. Her public, private and non-profit sector experience vastly outweigh Merritt’s. She is endorsed by Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, the majority of Tacoma City Council and a list of county and state elected leaders. Having already served on Tacoma City Council before announcing her run for mayor, if elected Woodards could hit the ground running, whereas Merritt would be coming in to a host of critical issues facing Tacoma with which he is unfamiliar. The potential of this causing havoc is real, particularly in light of Merritt’s aim to “change the culture of our local government” as he states on his website. Just look at what’s going on in Washington, D.C. where such “change” is concerned. The call to make sweeping change (“drain the swamp”) at the hands of a man who has never held office has led to confusion and taking sides rather than our country moving forward together under seasoned leadership.
Granted, Woodards is not the perfect candidate. It was disappointing when news broke about her misleading statements regarding college degrees she came close to but didn’t quite earn, and not speaking out more strongly about local residents’ concerns over LNG at the Port has left some feeling like she is weak on environmental issues. However, there is a bigger picture here to consider in that our city has a lot going on including LNG and between the two candidates, Woodards outpaces Merritt in terms of experience and a savvy grasp on all the issues. The question is, do we want to make the same mistake in our local election as happened in the presidential race? Our country is in turmoil over having a fledgling politician in the White House, and that same dynamic could occur right here at City Hall.
It would be nice if we could fully back either candidate unequivocally, but it is the job of the media to act responsibly in providing some level of recommendation for the election. Politicians and the media alike should be held to a higher standard and honesty is part of that. For example, The News Tribune made a mistake in delaying their reporting of Woodards’ education controversy until the public became aware of it last week. Holding news that may make a preferred candidate look bad only goes to perpetuate the problem, especially at a time of such high voter ambivalence resulting in low turnouts. A recent headline in “The Hill” stated “40 million fewer people expected to vote in 2018.” This is due, in part, to the effect of electing candidates who get away with talking a big game but are not qualified for the job once in office. In the case of Tacoma mayor, Woodards’ practical knowledge trumps Merritt’s novice ideas so Woodards is our recommendation in this case.