In launching Edmonds City Council campaign, Chen promises integrity, hard work, independence

Edmonds City Council candidate Will Chen speaks to supporters via Zoom Thursday night.

Will Chen officially jumped into the race for Edmonds City Council Position 2 on Thursday evening with a virtual kickoff event. Chen’s entry means the Position 2 contest is now at least a three-way race, pitting him against local business owner Janelle Cass and incumbent Luke Distelhorst, appointed last year to fill out the remaining term of now-Mayor Mike Nelson.

The deadline to file for a city council position is May 21, with the primary election set for Aug. 3 and the genearl election Nov. 2.

According to event emcee Josh Estes, almost 100 people attended the virtual event to listen and lend their support to Chen’s candidacy.

Chen, a CPA who operates his own accounting firm in Edmonds, has been an active part of the Edmonds community for years. Born in the People’s Republic of China, he arrived in the U.S. more than 26 years ago with limited English skills. He worked multiple jobs – his first was as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant – to pay for his education, pursue a career, and build his future. After receiving his undergraduate degree in accounting, Chen earned two master’s degrees, passed his CPA exam, and began a successful career in corporate finance with Kimberly Clark before starting his own CPA practice serving clients in Edmonds and across the state.

Chen pledged to bring the same kind of hard work and commitment to the Edmonds City Council.

In his opening remarks, he stressed his track record of industry, integrity and independence.

Will Chen with wife Lisa and son Gavin

“Think of me as a person that was made in China but shaped by American dreams and values, including diversity, education, community service  and entrepreneurial spirit,” he began. “I pledge to exercise independent thinking to serve all people of Edmonds with balanced, common-sense decision making, especially those who feel unheard.”

Chen stressed his belief in providing access to and the opportunity to participate in government for all citizens, regardless of economic, racial or cultural barriers.

“Diversity is our strength,” he stressed. “Edmonds is more ethnically diverse than many might realize at first glance. We have neighbors who need help accessing government services and resources, and I believe I am uniquely qualified to recognize these people and their voice, look out for their benefit, and bring them into the process.”

A key priority for Chen is to spend tax dollars wisely, which means putting the needs of citizens first and funding projects that matter most to them. He believes that his overriding ethic of independent thinking and common sense will help ensure this.

Another key priority is responsible economic development.

“We need to find responsible ways to grow our economy while keeping Edmonds the special place that we all know and care for,” he said. Acknowledging that growth and change are inevitable, Chen stressed the need to temper and shape this in ways that not only meet the needs of our most vulnerable populations but respect our shared values as a community.

Making special mention of the current efforts underway to revitalize Edmonds’ Highway 99 corridor, Chen underscored his commitment to bring this area into the mainstream of Edmonds life as a vibrant, revitalized asset that not only enhances multi-culturalism but provides a potent tax-generating engine for our local economy.

Edmonds City Councilmember Vivian Olson speaks in support of Chen at the kickoff event.

Among those speaking in support of Chen were City Councilmember Vivian Olson, former Councilmember Dave Teitzel, business owners Robert Ha and Ralph Sanders, and Carl Zapora, current CEO of Zapora Consulting and past CEO of both Verdant Health and United Way of Snohomish County.

Olson related how she first met Chen when he was a new appointee to the Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission and heard him speak about the details of how he planned to bring information out to citizens and take their input back to the commission.

“This delighted me,” said Olson. “I asked him if this was something that commission leadership had encouraged. He confessed that he had yet to attend his first meeting with the commission, and that this was his own idea. Will believes that the best decisions come from you – his role is to listen and be of service.”

Olson went on to describe observing Chen living this commitment when she served as city council liaison to the housing commission. She added how she saw this carry over as he applied to fill Mike Nelson’s city council seat, when she observed him provide a living example of what representation really means.

“I saw it in the faces of his neighbors and colleagues in the International District, and their abundant letters of recommendation and statements sharing about a candidate they were excited about, a candidate who would make city government relevant to them,” she said. “I was particularly impressed with the diversity of his followers, not only from the International District but from other neighborhoods and backgrounds across the city.”

Reflecting on the job of a city councilmember, Olson acknowledged that it takes considerable work and effort, requiring many hours of homework and engagement.

“Will is willing to put this in,” she said. “In addition, he brings a wealth of professional experience, independence, sound decision-making, knowledge and understanding of both the business community and citizens at large.”

Former Edmonds City Councilmember Dave Teitzel praised Chen’s dedication to doing the right thing for the people of Edmonds, without a personal or political agenda.

Next up was former city councilmember Dave Teitzel, who described Chen as “the kind of guy we need on council.”

“As a former councilmember, I’ve learned the importance of being open-minded, not having a personal or political agenda, having a strong fiscal understanding, and a passion to do the right thing for Edmonds,” he said. “Will has all this in abundance. He’s collaborative, he’s smart, he’s insightful, and he will be wise with taxpayer money. He will make a great addition to the council.”

Teitzel’s comments were followed by a question-and-answer session in which emcee Josh Estes read previously submitted questions and Chen provided direct answers.

Asked about the most pressing issues facing the city, Chen responded that these are public safety and economic recovery, both of which will require a renewed focus of resources and energy.

The next question centered on Highway 99, specifically Chen’s ideas for enhancing pedestrian safety along the corridor.

“The proposed center median will be a big improvement,” he responded. “But as population grows and economic revitalization attracts more people to the area, we also need to explore speed limits and the possibility of a satellite police station.”

Asked about partnerships with businesses and non-profits, Chen expressed strong enthusiasm for enhancing this effort, citing his current position on the chamber board and membership in Edmonds Rotary as examples.

“Everyone can contribute something of value to our community,” he said. “We need to look for opportunities to work together and build a stronger Edmonds. Public service is in my blood, and effective partnerships are vital to moving forward.”

In response to his thoughts on shaping the dynamics of interactions and relations between councilmembers, Chen reiterated his belief in the vital importance of treating one another with respect, keeping the focus on issues rather than personalities, and recognizing that while each councilmember has different backgrounds and perspectives, it is important to put these aside and work together for the good of our city and citizens.

The next question asked about Chen’s positions on rezoning, included in the proposals that the housing commission recently delivered to the council. In response, he stressed the need to proceed with caution on upzoning proposals, reiterating his earlier point that while the city needs to address housing issues, it should also want to protect and “keep Edmonds the place we all love.”

Asked about environmental issues, Chen referred to Edmonds as a “jewel of the Pacific Northwest,” thanks to such environmental assets as the waterfront and the Edmonds Marsh. He also expressed support for the recently adopted tree code and pledged to continue to look for opportunities to protect the environment as a councilmember.

The final question concerned bringing unity to all neighborhoods that respects the differences and diversity of our population.

“I believe that diversity is a vital asset to our community, not a liability,” Chen stressed. “We need to come together with open arms, and practice this in our day-to-day interactions – smile at people, wave, say hello. These actions can go a long way toward bringing us together.”

With the Q & A complete, Carl Zapora took the virtual podium to add his support to Will Chen’s candidacy.

“Healthy communities need nurturing,” Zapora stressed. “It takes decades to build a great city, and it needs constant nurturing and protecting. But a few thoughtless actions, and it can fall apart in no time.

“Some of the recent comments from current councilmembers just made me cringe,” he added. “We need to constantly project a good image for our city.”

Describing Chen as one who “always does the work quietly and effectively, always with modesty and no flag-waving,” he stressed that Chen is not only the kind of person who gets the job done but attracts others like him to join in by his example.

Edmonds business owner Ralph Sanders described Chen’s history of coming to America as an immigrant and through hard work and dedication now holds several college degrees and runs his own business.

Next up was Ralph Sanders of Edmonds’ Sanders Law Group, who related how through years of hard work and determination Chen built himself up from a newly-arrived immigrant with practically no English skills, worked sometimes menial jobs to pay his way through college, and now runs his own accounting firm.

“What an example of tremendous hard work and taking advantage of the opportunities America offers,” Sanders said. “This is the kind of guy we need working for us. I think Will will make a superb councilmember.”

Next speaker was Robert Ha, who has known Chen for many years through church, community and as a fellow business owner in the International District.

Fellow International District business owner and friend Robert Ha speaks about Chen’s ability to “bring the richness of our various communitites together.”

“Will understands the challenges business owners – particularly minority business owners – face every day,” Ha said. “He makes difficult and important decision unselfishly, he understands how to bring the richness of our various communities together, and Edmonds will benefit from his leadership, passion and practical experience.”

Final remarks came from Sean O’Sullivan, a colleague and friend of Chen’s for years who has worked for numerous campaigns in Washington since his first gig with the late U.S. Sen. Henry M. (Scoop) Jackson in the 1960s.

“I’ve worked hundreds of campaigns at the local, state and federal levels,” he said, “but in all that time I’ve never found a better qualified candidate than Will Chen. His incredible work ethic and intelligence will make him a great councilmember.”

In his closing remarks, Chen thanked participants for their kind words and support.

“I came to this country, I worked hard – but everyone can accomplish what I have through hard work and dedication,” he said. “When I’m elected, I’ll bring this work ethic to the council for you. Together we’ll be a stronger Edmonds, and a better community.”

Learn more about Will Chen at his campaign website and Facebook page.

— By Larry Vogel

  1. To Candidate Chen,
    What is the Edmonds economy and what pitfalls (such as our notorious building code and permitting) could exacerbate a slow Edmonds recovery? Edmonds is a service-based economy as far as I can tell, which doesn’t do well during austerity. What if?

    Asking because I do not know, how leveraged is Edmonds? – is this city capable of passing a stress test when/if housing and the stock market turn?

    1. Hi Matt,
      A service-based economy may not be the first one to react to housing and the stock market turn, but it does. We do have opportunities for improvement here locally. I’d love to hear your ideas. My contact information can be found on my campaign website,

  2. Great job ,Will , with your Passions ,Diversity , Knowledge, your in the mold of leaders . Thank
    You .
    Together ,we Will .

    Robert Ha

  3. Just the fact that Mr. Chen is running makes me feel a little more positive about where Edmond’s city government might be heading, at least for awhile anyway. It is important that the voters remember, however, that Council Persons’ power is very limited – pretty much to the power of the purse. That fact alone, makes a financial expert and a CPA credentialed candidate look promising. Our history as a city has been that mayors tend to react harshly when they perceive Council People interfering in the management process. There is a reason they call it a Strong Mayor System.

  4. To better understand the 99 corridor, you gave me a tour, starting at Chen Accounting Firm. Prior to your renovation it was a house on a highway.

    You shared your Edmonds Gateway signage vision, “Welcome to Edmonds” on the corner opposite the existing “Thank you for Visiting Shoreline.” You told me a story of a fish jumping over a fence (a sign of good fortune – using the salmon (Edmonds) and Gate (for the Gateway to Edmonds). We spoke of the possibility of a competition of artists – also in your determination of safety, to include medians.

    You introduced me to places and people along Highway 99. The 99RanchMarket, an Asian boutique on Plum Street Plaza, and a dessert shop / bakery. The importance is you opened my senses to another part of Edmonds, of what is and can be.

    On the other side, I was amazed by desperation in commercial and residential areas outside the bowl. I saw seemingly endless motels, lack of care of infrastructure, and forgotten neighborhoods. How can Edmonds citizens be okay with this? Who are the Council Members representing? Perhaps they are like me and hadn’t seen in person, the city not doing minimal care of infrastructure, pedestrian safety, ability to see street signs…

    Will, we spoke of the citizens being a part of the change. As you witnessed in the Citizens’ Housing Commission process, the city fails in outreach to the needy, and the Mayor is not holding the staff accountable. The Commission members practically begged to volunteer to get word to these folks. The staff blocked it. There is not a need for more staff. There is a need for change. There is a need to incorporate all citizens’ voices, including the ones washing dishes.

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