Voters demand new voices in Lacey

LACEY - Voters apparently swept three longtime City Council incumbents from office, Tuesday night's early election returns show, complicating the city's desire to form its own fire department and demonstrating a dissatisfaction with the community's direction.

Mayor Graeme Sackrison and Deputy Mayor John Darby were losing to their respective challengers, Ron Lawson and Andy Ryder, by more than 700 votes. Ann Burgman, the council’s longest-serving member who was first elected in 1993, was losing to challenger Cynthia Pratt by 1,250 votes.

The lone surviving incumbent appears to be Councilman Virgil Clarkson, who was running unopposed.

The challengers expressed guarded optimism that the results would hold with 15,000 to 20,000 ballots countywide scheduled to be counted today.

They said the initial results were the product of voter disenchantment with the workings of city government.

“There’s a very big unrest in our society, and they are looking for people who have new ideas,” Ryder said. “That’s what this election has proven: that it’s time for new ideas and a new direction in Lacey.”

Added Pratt: “I think the citizens were looking for new ideas, and that’s sort of what I heard on the campaign trail when I was talking to people.”

The campaign focused on the future of medical emergency response. Earlier in the year, the seven-member City Council voted unanimously not to renew its service contract with Lacey Fire District 3 after it expires at the end of 2010 and the city manager recommended starting a new fire department. The two sides began bickering last year over money, a dispute that culminated in the closure of the Hawks Prairie fire station for more than four months before a settlement was reached.

Two weeks ago, a citizens advisory committee convened by the city recommended the city create its own fire department, as negotiations between the city and district to maintain a relationship beyond next year broke off.

The Lacey firefighters union, which maintains that city residents would get reduced service from a new fire department, endorsed and actively campaigned for the three challengers. The union has contributed thousands of dollars to their campaigns. All of the challengers oppose creating the department and support either annexing the city into the fire district or forming a regional fire authority.

Sackrison, serving in his third four-year term, said the initial results were a reflection of the union’s involvement in the campaign rather than the policy direction the council has taken.

“I think primarily it’s a message that the firefighters union is a powerful organization with a lot of time and energy to campaign,” said Sackrison, the first council member in the city’s history to serve separate tenures as mayor. Council members select the mayor and deputy mayor every two years.

His race turned testy as Election Day neared when Sackrison filed a police report alleging Lawson stole his campaign signs. Lawson admitted taking the mayor’s signs, saying he did so out of frustration because of the disappearance of his own signs.

Lawson said the union’s involvement helped, but the main factor in the races was the challengers outworking the incumbents in their campaigns.

Burgman, who was traveling, and Darby were unavailable for comment Tuesday night.

The incumbents also had to fend off criticism from the challengers that growth in the community is poorly planned and strains its water and transportation systems. The incumbents have countered that growth was well managed given the tremendous demands of the housing boom, which turned vast tracts of land in Hawks Prairie and south Lacey into neighborhoods for thousands of new residents.

Christian Hill: 360-754-5427