City leaders in Tumwater believe they are on the verge of a brewing revival in a town that once famously produced the Olympia Beer line. No surprise then that most candidates for mayor and City Council mention craft brewing and distilling as a centerpiece of the city’s economic develop future — and a goal they would actively pursue if elected Nov. 7.
Other campaign issues are home affordability, homelessness and public safety.
Three candidates in contested city races stand out and deserve to be elected, including Pete Kmet, who is seeking a third term as mayor. Kmet is challenged by low-profile candidate Chris Ward who has run below-radar campaigns before that failed. Ward has offered no compelling reason to vote for him, and Kmet describes him as “a ghost.”
In the two contested City Council races, Michael Althauser is the better option than Chelsea Rustad. And incumbent Debbie Sullivan’s experience makes her the better choice than Brian Tomlinson.
Eileen Swarthout is running unopposed for a third council position.
Under Kmet’s eight-year watch as mayor, the city has been working hard to spur development on former brewery properties left vacant when the industrial brewing operation ceased operation. That has led the city to partner with brewers, distillers, South Puget Sound Community College and a developer to create what they are calling a craft brewing district along Capitol Boulevard.
This thematic approach to development — building off on the city’s brewing history — has enormous potential for all of South Sound, but especially Tumwater.
Also under Kmet, the city lured Toyota of Olympia to relocate its dealership along the frontage road that runs west of Interstate 5 and behind Costco, which includes important traffic flow improvements in that part of town. There is much more to be done to address traffic problems in Tumwater, but the city has other projects in the pipeline for streets that are near I-5 interchanges.
Althauser, who works for Columbia Legal Services and formerly with the state Senate, is the more practical and appropriate candidate in the council position 5 race. He brings a background as a Planning Commission member familiar with the nitty-gritty of land use and traffic. His campaign is putting a focus on public safety, which includes supports for city work to better identify who are homeless in Tumwater and where.
He also grasps the potential of a craft brewing center proposed along Capitol Boulevard.
Rustad is a state employee and she is running as a member of the Socialist Party USA. She is offering herself as potentially the second socialist elected to a city council in Washington after Seattle’s Kshama Sawant.
Rustad favors a $15 local minimum wage, rent controls, safeguards against gentrification, more public works jobs for those in need of jobs, and use of unused buildings to help the homeless.
In the position 6 council race, Sullivan faces a challenge from Brian Tomlinson, a relative newcomer to Tumwater who has served on an Olympia parks advisory board and historic commission. Tomlinson works in information technology for a state agency and has a real estate background.
Sullivan, also a state employee, earns the edge because of her service on the Tumwater Planning Commission. She is well-versed in city growth issues, is perceptive and has noted the need for a demographic mix in local housing developments.
Both Sullivan and Tomlinson see potential in the brewing center.
Tumwater is a growing city with many promising projects on the boards. It has been crafting ways to accommodate development in areas with threatened gopher habitat, mainly by securing alternative habitat areas.
We’d like to see Tumwater’s leaders take homelessness more seriously as a regional issue, but ultimately our county commissioners may need to bring local leaders to the table in a new regional partnership.
Meantime, business development, traffic and other growth issues in Tumwater can benefit from having the most experienced people on the City Council.
Those best equipped to deal with these issues are Pete Kmet for mayor and Michael Althauser and Debbie Sullivan for the council.