Port Townsend council hopefuls debate

Issues: Vaccine proof, housing, work-life balance

Libby Urner Wennstrom.

PORT TOWNSEND — Proof of vaccination for indoor dining, affordable housing, work-life balance: Three tough questions dominated Tuesday’s Port Townsend City Council candidates forum.

The hour-long discussion, hosted by the noon Rotary Club of Port Townsend, brought together Position 5 hopefuls Libby Wennstrom and Tyler Vega and Position 1 candidates Cameron Jones and Ben Thomas, masked and seated inside the Northwest Maritime Center.

While some Rotarians attended in person, a number of others joined the meeting online via Zoom.

When asked for their thoughts on the North Olympic Peninsula-wide requirement for proof of COVID-19 vaccination for indoor dining and bars, all four candidates paused for a beat.

Then Wennstrom volunteered to speak first.

“I’m glad to see it,” she said, “because the alternative is shutting down restaurants and bars … Going out to eat isn’t a right. It’s a privilege,” and there continues to be the option of takeout or cooking at home.

“I’m saddened to see our region make the national news again,” Wennstrom said, referring to coverage of threats made against Dr. Allison Berry, the Jefferson-Clallam county health officer who instituted the proof-of-vaccination mandate 11 days ago.

Vega, her opponent, spoke next. Resistance to vaccination is a symptom of people’s distrust of pharmaceutical companies and the government, he said. Universal health care would help solve the problem, he believes.

Vega also said he strives to listen to opposing viewpoints on this, since “you have to see both sides,” he said, “to be effective in the real world.”

Thomas, who recently recovered from a relatively mild case of COVID-19, said the mandate is important to protect workers in restaurants and bars.

“It was really painful to see this happen in real time,” he added of the requirement and the reactions to it.

Thomas said too that he’s vaccinated; he credits the inoculation with protecting him against serious illness.

Jones, Thomas’ opponent, said he agrees with the mandate. But he also understands people’s distrust of government-sanctioned health measures, owing to the Tuskegee experiment and other harmful programs affecting people of color.

“I know we all want to return to normal,” Jones said, and “we’ve got to work together as a community” to figure out what that looks like.

When tackling a question about how the city can foster expanded housing options, Vega said the key is having “the correct people at the table” for planning and execution.

Wennstrom touted partnerships among government and nonprofit agencies, which can give life to projects such as Olympic Community Action Programs’ Seventh Haven development, which broke ground this summer.

Thomas, for his part, said, “There are a lot of small things we can do,” such as opening up zoning.

“I’m in favor of a gentle density increase,” he added.

Jones advocated “using land creatively,” and said he’s in favor of the housing trust concept, which conserves land to make housing permanently affordable for owners and renters alike. He also noted the potential for intergenerational housing — to make room for families, workers and elders.

The forum’s last question was about how each candidate would fit city council service into his or her life.

“Stay centered” is the way, said Jones, who is a yoga teacher, a partner at Woodbridge Farm, an activist and a retail worker. To prevent becoming overwhelmed by one thing or another, he said, “stay in touch with the people you love.”

Thomas, the winemaker at Port Townsend Vineyards since he helped start the operation five years ago, said he’s at a point when he can step back a little. He added that he rises at 5 o’clock each morning, so he has time to read council materials.

Wennstrom, a mother, a freelance technical writer and a costumer for local theater companies, said she has more flexibility now than she did when her children were young, and is pretty good at juggling multiple demands.

Vega said he’d have to let go of much of his work in Progressive Party activism at the state and national levels.

“The campaign prepares you,” Vega said, adding he estimates council service takes 20 to 30 hours per week.

The candidates acknowledged council members add plenty of off-the-calendar work to their lives. That includes when you go to the Food Co-op, Wennstrom said, and a constituent “wants to talk for half an hour.”

Port Townsend’s City Council races will appear on the Nov. 2 general election ballot, to be mailed out in mid-October. Information about voter registration is available at https://co.jefferson.wa.us/1266/Elections.

Voter guides will be published before the election by the state Secretary of State’s Office.

Peninsula Daily News will not be publishing a general election voter guide.

________

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or durbanidelapaz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Tyler Myles Vega.
Ben Thomas.
Cameron Jones.

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