Edmonds City Councilmember Lora Petso picked an appropriate setting for her campaign kick-off Thursday night– Hickman Park in Southwest Edmonds.
The park is just a short distance from the home where Petso and her husband, Colin Southcoate-Want, run their actuarial consulting business. Many of the supporters who gathered for the event expressed their gratitude for Petso’s role in ensuring that City acquired the land from the Edmonds School District so the park could be created.
Petso, who lost her bid for re-election in 2003 but was appointed by the council in 2010 to fill a vacant seat, acknowledged to the group that her passion for parks has made her a target of critics who think she cares about little else. “You know what, if that’s the worst thing they can come up with to say during this election season, I’m a happy park liker,” she said. As if on cue, Petso’s 1-year-old grandson Augustine — toddling over from the nearby playground — appeared at her feet and she gathered him in her arms.
Petso, who is being challenged by political newcomer Darlene Stern, said she got into politics “by accident” 15 years ago when she ran for — and won — election as a commissioner for the Olympic View Water District. She has been re-elected to that position in 1995, 2001 and 2007. She is proud of her leadership role on the current council — serving as council vice president and also as chair of the finance committee. “It has allowed me at least in some part to help smooth things out with finance issues, with how the council operates,” she said.
“I hope there has been some noticeable improvement in the last year in how the council conducts their affairs because we really have worked hard on trying not to surprise people, trying to get some basic common sense practices in, and I hope it’s starting to show,” Petso added.
She admitted that the council’s recent combative discussions about whether to place property tax levies on the upcoming ballot “were an exception to a professional-looking council deliberation, but I will just plead the excuse that if you talk to any six or seven people in town and ask them to agree on the levy, it’s going to roughly resemble the council deliberations,” she said.
“It’s an young council and an inexperienced council,” Petso said, noting that with five years she has the second highest seniority, behind three-term Councilmember Michael Plunkett. “It’s nice to have someone with some experience around and I think I can really serve you with that,” Petso said.
While many of the faces have changed since she was first elected in 1999, Petso said, two main issues have remained: building height limits — which she reiterated she strongly supports — “and trying to figure out how to pay for city services.” She noted that she favors two out of the three property tax levies that the majority of the council voted to place on the November ballot — $1 million for street maintenance and $500,000 for parks and building maintenance. Petso said she opposes the third measure — $1 million measure for city services — because it could be used to hire employees, and those workers might be laid off if the levy wasn’t renewed.
Petso reiterated her commitment to working for her constituents, noting “truly I am for us. I’m going to try my very best to stay out of political maneuvering over the next six or eight weeks while still protecting our interests.” Because she isn’t affiliated with a political party, Petso said she won’t be seeking their endorsement, “so I can’t draw on this party or that party for mailing lists and support and all the important things,” she said. “But the advantage of it is, you know that you’re the ones I’m working for.”
As Petso ended her remarks, Rich Senderoff, a member of the Edmonds Economic Development Commission, told the group that Petso’s opponent is relying on campaign speeches rather than substance and “for me, actions speak louder than words.”
“There are candidates in this election — Lora’s opponent — not any bit of public record — not one,” Senderoff said. “Not any testimony before council — zilch. Not any letters to the editor, or taking a position on any issue in the entire time that they have lived in this community. I know that she (Petso) supports neighborhoods and the unique parts of this community that people value, that make Edmonds not a city but a community, and that’s why I can support her versus the candidate she’s running against.”