PORT TOWNSEND — People without shelter, deep divides on the political spectrum, water and drugs: These are a few of the local dilemmas about which three Port Townsend City Council candidates have strong feelings.
The trio vying for position 5 on the council are Sky Hardesty-Thompson, 39, in his first bid for political office; Tyler Myles Vega, 44, a six-year Port Townsend resident who’s run previously for City Council as well as for Congress; and Libby Urner Wennstrom, 58, an officer with the Jefferson County Democrats.
Each wants to fill the seat to be vacated by Pamela Adams, who’s not running for re-election.
It will be the only council race on the Aug. 3 primary election ballot. The top two will advance to the general election on Nov. 9.
“With Tyler and I, there are lots of things we agree on, but the approach to how we would do them is different,” Wennstrom said in an interview at Aldrich’s Market’s upstairs cafe last week.
She said her approach boils down to: “What can we get done? It’s very hard to cross chasms in a single leap …
“I tend to be very practical,” she added.
Wennstrom has worked in event management, where the focus tends toward the three T’s: traffic, toilets, trash.
“If you get that right, no one notices. If you get it wrong, it’s all anyone talks about.”
That approach carries forward to City Council work, said Wennstrom, who’s lived in Port Townsend for 23 years.
The contract with the Port Townsend Paper Co., which has long maintained the water pipeline for the city, is one of the negotiations the new council will tackle in the coming year. Street maintenance is another sticky problem.
Housing — for essential workers, for people who would take jobs here if they could only find somewhere to live — is “the iceberg [that] has come up out of the water,” Wennstrom said.
Hardesty-Thompson, a former small business owner currently on disability, spoke about the homeless people he’s gotten to know in his nine years here.
“There’s a real big drug problem in this town. I don’t think people realize how bad it is,” he said, adding methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl are the worst of the problems.
“Most people are poly-substance abusers,” he said.
Yet others living on the street have a mental health issue, and they are unaware of local resources such as those at Discovery Bay Behavioral Health, Hardesty-Thompson added.
In an interview at Chetzemoka Park, Hardesty-Thompson talked about how he’s developed trust with one person at a time — a must if the person is to be honest about his or her struggles.
“What I hear from a lot of them is they don’t have anything to look forward to,” he said.
“They don’t have a job. They don’t know how to get to that point.”
Vega, who is half Filipino, has lived in a variety of situations outside a traditional house with a yard. A driven political and climate activist, he sees this City Council race as a mix of candidates from across the political spectrum.
“This, for me, is a recurring theme,” he said. “All of our problems come down to political divides,” between “liberals,” “progressives” and the right wing.
It’s been a challenge to agree on a definition of “progressive,” Vega added.
Instead of going into that, he spent much of his interview on the Port Townsend Food Co-op patio, discussing how to make the city more resilient as the effects of climate change get worse.
Vega said the heat wave last month focused his attention on disaster preparedness. He wants to see the city direct its energy into growing food as close to home as possible, ensuring a sustainable water and power system and, specifically, water and fog catchment systems on every roof.
“I’m an IT guy,” he said, meaning he works in information technology, both in his day job with Dailey Computer Consulting and in his political activism.
And while Vega is a musician, he says art is not his strong suit; hence the “kind of ugly” campaign signs dotting Port Townsend streets.
Those “Vote Vega” signs formerly belonged to Amanda Funaro, who ran for Jefferson County commissioner last year. Vega used a stencil and spray paint to “upcycle” them, he said; he and his supporters plan to put up more in the remaining time before Election Day.
Wennstrom, for her part, said she had a union shop in Olympia make her signs from recycled plastic. She’s had a fair number of people remark on the number of them out there.
“You have hundreds,” they’ve said.
In fact, it was 52 as of last week, Wennstrom noted, adding she was careful to ask supporters who live on busy streets to put them in their yards.
Due to health issues — sinus surgery and a dental procedure — Hardesty-Thompson hasn’t ramped up his campaign materials to the level of his rivals. While recovering, he could not provide information in time for the Jefferson County Voters’ Pamphlet sent out earlier this month.
But signs are in the works, and he said he’s handing out a freshly printed flier describing his priorities.
“I will boldly address the three primary concerns that demand solutions: housing for our workforce and low-income citizens; solutions for homelessness and drug addiction; and a business community which often feels that it is under attack,” it reads.
“Our former rigid views must give way to progress. Ideology must give way to effective solutions. A true leader remains open to collaboration.”
Hardesty-Thompson added that he seeks to remain above political labels; the race is officially nonpartisan, after all.
On the council, “I’ll do my best to share my point of view,” he said. Yet “it’s more important to get things done.”
All three council candidates have participated in two forums now available for viewing online: the League of Women Voters of Jefferson County’s July 1 debate, at https://lwvwa.org/Jefferson, and last Saturday’s Housing Solutions Network forum, which can be seen at KPTZ.org.
Ballots for the primary election, mailed last Wednesday, must be turned in by Aug. 3.
Voters who have yet to register can do so online or by mail by this Monday — or they can register in person at the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1820 Jefferson St. The courthouse is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. More information can be found at co.jefferson.wa.us under Quick Links and Elections.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, senior reporter in Jefferson County, can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]