She’s been a force in local politics for more than two decades, and with her hat in the ring for this year’s Edmonds City Council contest, Lora Petso hopes to again serve the citizens of Edmonds with her signature blend of fiscal responsibility, well-researched positions, careful decision-making and passion for public process.
She is one of three challengers looking to unseat Luke Distelhorst in Position 2. The others are Janelle Cass and Will Chen.
Petso got her first taste of elected office in 1995 with her successful run as commissioner for Olympic View Water and Sewer District, where she continues to serve.
Her growing passion for public service moved her to run for Edmonds City Council in 1999. She was elected and served one term before losing a re-election bid in 2003 to the late Peggy Pritchard Olson. Petso continued to serve as Olympic View Water commissioner but said she missed her role on city council.
When then-Councilmember Dave Orvis resigned in 2010, Petso applied for and was appointed to fill out Orvis’s term. She successfully ran for re-election in 2012, defeating challenger and political newcomer Darlene Stern. In 2016 she ran again for re-election but was defeated by Neil Tibbott in his first run for elected office. She also ran unsuccessfully for the Edmonds Port Commission in 2017. Most recently she applied in 2020 for Mike Nelson’s Position 2 seat when Nelson was elected mayor. Luke Distelhorst was ultimately selected, has now served for a year and a half, and is seeking to retain his seat.
“I really wanted to serve with that group of councilmembers,” Petso said. “There were three new people and three with whom I’d already worked, and the mix of talent and experience made for a dynamic group. I didn’t get chosen for that appointment, but now I get to run against the person who was chosen [Distelhorst].”
Petso describes her service on the council as the most fulfilling thing she’s ever done.
“I love learning, and serving on council is the perfect place to learn about new things,” she observes. “Every time you look at an issue you learn more than you did the last time.”
Petso believes that studying issues and new ideas is critical to good council decision-making.
“It’s important to do your homework and get these decisions right the first time, because in many cases you simply don’t get the chance to fix it after the fact,” she stressed. “If you build a horrible building, decide not to build a park, lose a valuable employee – you don’t often get the chance to go back in and make it right. These are permanent consequences that might be avoided by thorough work upfront. Some things are too important to experiment with – environmental things in particular.”
She cites the council vote earlier this year to confirm Mayor Mike Nelson’s selection for police chief despite new information coming out as a “glaring” example of permanent consequences that might have been avoided.
“There is no chance I would move something up in advance of new information coming out,” she says. “Looking from the outside in it almost appears that the voting date was moved up for fear we’d learn new information – that’s odd, that’s inappropriate.”
Walkable Main Street is another issue she feels was rushed and lacked sufficient public process.
“I realize I don’t have all the information at this point, but it sounds like a compromise was offered and not accepted,” she said. “Was there a public hearing on this? At this point we need to monitor it [Walkable Main Street] and change it if we find the folks who are against it are right. This is another of those decisions that involve irreplaceable things. Everybody admires our charming downtown area, and we don’t want to lose that. If you drive off businesses, how do you get them back, when do you get them back, or do you get them back at all?”
Petso also has concerns about the housing issue and the way the Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission recommendations are being handled. She points out that affordable housing was a topic of discussion in 2000 during her first term on council, and that this gives her the perspective to add historical context to the current debate.
“It appears that the city was disregarding the (citizen) survey,” she observed. “And it really shouldn’t be too hard to consider public input received since the survey, look at the options available, and come up with something that can work for all. It’s a shame – it should be solvable in a way that works for everybody. Again, don’t experiment with things that are irretrievable.”
Looking at the current council races, Petso sees a distinct lack of experience in many candidates.
“Out of the current crop of candidates there are three with significant experience, one with a year and half, and the rest none whatever,” she points out. “I have a big experience advantage, and that’s what’s needed on council right now.
Petso holds a bachelor of arts in economics from Whitman College, is a graduate of the University of Washington School of Law and a member of the Washington State Bar Association. She and her husband have lived in Edmonds for more than 30 years, where they raised their family and operated their business.
Petso said she has not decided yet whether she will hold a campaign kick-off event. The top two candidates in the Aug. 3 primary election will advance to the November general election.
— By Larry Vogel