How Sammamish veterans lost their City Council races

  • Note: This is 11 pages when printed.
Nov 4 results

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How did two veterans of Sammamish public service lose their bids for election to the City Council in the Nov. 3 election to two unknown newcomers to the City?

They lost through a combination of miscalculation, arrogance, the split of traditional coalitions, angry opposition, tenacious newcomers and a one-term Council Member who wasn’t about to cower in the face of determined opposition.

They also had an unwitting helping hand from their own Deputy Mayor, whose obsessions galvanized the opposition to upset her allies.

This is the inside story of how Mayor Tom Vance lost to two-year resident Tom Hornish and how former Mayor and Council Member Mark Cross lost a comeback bid to a feisty young Mom in tennis shoes, Christie Malchow, invoking remembrances of another tennis shoe Mom campaign in Washington long before Malchow moved here.

Converging events

Elections are won and lost on a multitude of issues. In Sammamish, these can be summed up this way:

  • It’s an anti-incumbent year. Look no further than Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders, who challenge the establishment and gin up enthusiasm.
  • A recovering economy meant that a lot of developments that had been put on hold during the Great Recession burst onto the scene at the same time. Trees came down, a dramatically visible sign that upset thousands of residents.
  • The continuing revelations that in approving developments, City Codes are routinely ignored, creating the image of a City that is Variances-R-Us and Greenwashing the environment.
  • A City Council that clearly lost touch with its constituents.
  • The “boob” factor. The City Council and City Administration kept saying and doing dumb things that provided a steady stream of articles in The Sammamish Comment.
  • Complacency by Cross and Vance that they were shoo-ins for this election.
  • An aggressive campaign strategy by the challengers and their supporters.
  • A backlash against last minute campaign tactics by the Deputy Mayor and against Vance’s own campaign decisions.

Miscalculations

Tom Vance.

Vance and Cross simply miscalculated on a number of levels.

Vance, who ran for election in 2009, lost to John Curley by a 55-45 margin (virtually identical to last night’s initial results). As with this year, 2009 was a year of anti-incumbency. Vance misread the mood, wrapped himself as an incumbent to the then-sitting City Council and took a drubbing in the election that also saw the defeat of Jack Barry, one of the original Council Members in office since 1999. (Barry was defeated by Tom Odell, who inadvertently played a role in the reasons for yesterday’s defeat of his allies, Vance and Cross.)

As in 2009, Vance misread the mood of the Sammamish electorate this year. Complacent that he could win a victory similar to his 2011 election in which he thumped a weak and largely unqualified opponent, Vance figured he would coast to reelection. It wasn’t until September that he woke up and recognized his opponent this year, Hornish, constituted a threat.

Vance’s own tactics (and that of supporter Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay) in the closing weeks of the campaign revealed how desperate the situation had become. In the end, Vance became the first sitting Mayor of Sammamish to be defeated for reelection.

Mark Cross

Cross, who served two terms on the Council from 2004 to 2012, including a term as Mayor, clearly expected to coast to a comeback after a four year break. He, like Vance, didn’t campaign from the May filing date until waking up in September that his opponent, Malchow, was a threat.

Inexplicably, Cross didn’t put a detailed list of issues he stood for on his web site. He didn’t even respond to the League of Women Voters questions until a week after Sammamish Comment noted the failure to do so. Cross essentially re-ran his 2003 campaign about finishing the East Lake Sammamish Trail and his principal new issue was to advocate for hiring more City staff to oversee road projects.

Vance and Cross both are well qualified on the issues—in most respects, more so than either Hornish or Malchow—but as became evident at the only Candidates Forum, Hornish and Malchow demonstrated they were well versed enough to avoid disqualification in the eyes of the public. The key, then, was what was the key issue to vote for Malchow and Hornish?

Transparency, responsiveness and listening to the public. Malchow and Hornish got it. Vance and Cross did not.

It was perhaps the biggest miscalculation of the entire campaign.

Splitting the old Coalition

In every election in Sammamish until this one, the Coalitions that were formed and aligned were basically “left” vs “right,” Democrats vs Republicans, business vs unions and environmentalists vs developers.

The actions of this City Council and of this City Administration busted up these coalitions.

While the partisan splits largely, but not entirely, remained intact, left/right, business/unions and environmentalists/developers gravitated to Malchow, maverick City Council Member Ramiro

Ramiro Valderrama

Valderamma and Hornish.

The traditional coalition support for Vance and Cross was shockingly thin, both on the level of endorsements and in financial support.

These were the first “tells” that Vance and Cross were in trouble, over and above pockets of citizen complaints, which Vance, Cross and their allies on the City Council basically dismissed as a bunch of whiners and loons.

Vance, Cross and their close supporters on the Council failed to recognize that their own actions, arrogance and policies succeeded in uniting these diverse groups behind the “V-3” (the Valderrama 3).

Vance and Cross sought but did not gain the endorsement of the Eastside Business Alliance. Failing this, Vance and Huckabay at the last minute tried to make an issue over the fact EBA endorsed the V-3.

Huckabay began a push-polling type of email campaign criticizing the V-3 for accepting the endorsement and financial support of the unions representing fire fighters. Huckabay received similar support in her 2004 campaign for State Senate and in City Council campaigns, but she cast this aside in her campaign against the V-3.

 Trees, Development and Fish

As trees came down for development, the rape-and-scrape became the symbol of development gone amuck in Sammamish. In a classic case of closing the barn door after the horse got loose, the City Council adopted an “emergency” tree retention ordinance and finally a permanent ordinance just before the election. The problem: there is only 2.5% of developable land left in Sammamish for which the ordinance applies. Vance touted this as one of his major accomplishments. It was too little, too late.

It was something that should have been adopted eight years ago, when Vance was on the Planning Commission (and served as chairman in 2009-2010), but he didn’t have the vision then. Instead, Vance touted a concept called Vision Zero on his website as a signature platform, something originating in Scandinavia relating to traffic control. It was so obscure—and Vance failed to explain it—that he referred fellow Council Members to Wikipedia for an explanation. Members weren’t impressed: they cut the concept from the rewrite of the Comprehensive Plan before adoption shortly before the election.

Development, affecting storm water runoff and threatening Kokanee salmon downstream, became a big issue, especially when it was revealed the City Staff granted scores of variances and exemptions to ordinances. The City’s leading environmentalist, Wally Pereyra, who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money restoring Ebright Creek for the Kokanee and appealing developments, abandoned Vance and Cross—whom he supported in previous elections—for the V-3. The defection would prove a critical development in the campaigns.

The Huckabay Factor

Winning or losing has many factors. If any one factor more than any other can be pointed to this year affecting the outcome of the races, this factor is Deputy Mayor Kathy Huckabay.

Kathy Huckabay

It was her obsessions with Valderrama, the Initiative and Referendum and Citizens for Sammamish that did more to galvanize opposition than any other single event. It was also Huckabay’s own mouth. She developed a propensity of saying things at the City Council meeting that simply weren’t true and others that were interpreted as disdainful of the citizens (with a lower case C) of Sammamish.

During 2014, Valderrama tried for months to get the attention of Council over the property owners disputes with King County over the design and final development of the ELST. He finally badgered Vance and Huckabay into putting the subject on the agenda. Scores of homeowners appeared at the Council in July to testify about issues.

Throughout the year, Huckabay claimed the first Council heard of the issues was in April, an assertion disputed by Valderrama and backed up by Member Nancy Whitten. When, in November, Huckabay repeated the claim a third time, Sammamish Comment decided to look into the issue. The result was an 18-page special investigation published in January 2015 that chronicled more than a year of email and other communication with the City Staff and City Council about the problems. Former Public Works Director Laura Philpot later told The Comment that it was this special investigation that finally “woke up” the Council and prompted the City to engage the County to try and resolve problems on the North End and to try and head off problems on the far South End of ELST.

It was this Sammamish Comment investigation, prompted by Huckabay’s repeated claim that the Council hadn’t heard about issues until April 2014, that lead to the realization that there was more going on behind the scenes at the City than met the eye—and neither of the two local papers, The Sammamish Review or The Issaquah/Sammamish Reporter, appeared to have any interest in digging into the shenanigans going on.

Simultaneous with The Comment’s investigation about ELST, Citizens for Sammamish (Citizens with an Upper Case C, CFS) was pursuing getting the City to adopt the right of Initiative and Referendum (I&R). At the retreat in January, the Council decided to put the issue to an Advisory Vote on April 28. The decision was approved on a 6-1 vote, with Council Member Tom Odell the lone dissenter. Informally, most Council Members told The Comment that they would honor the outcome of the vote. Vance told both local papers he could not see the Council going against the citizen vote.

Even though Huckabay emailed Planning Commissioner Frank Blau that it was proper for her and the Council to remain neutral once action was taken to put the issue on the ballot, Huckabay began a secret campaign to sow confusion and misinformation about the advisory ballot. She led an effort to ban CFS from the Boys and Girls Club and Fire Station 82 (the one on north 228th Ave.) from meeting in the future. She used her position as Deputy Mayor to set a meeting with the head of the union of Eastside Firefighters to lobby him to throw CFS out of Station 82, emails show and the union president told The Comment. The union chief not only said he had no control over who met at the Station, he urged Huckabay to support the I&R, an email shows.

Hary Shedd 2

Harry Shedd

Tom Odell

Simultaneously, Odell filed a complaint with the state Public Disclosure Commission over yard signs that had gone up supporting the I&R. The yard signs were created and paid for by Harry Shedd, chairman of CFS. Odell, at the urging of Huckabay and with the knowledge of Vance, filed the complaint with the PDC over whether Shedd or CFS had to file reports with the PDC. The PDC eventually dismissed Odell’s complaint, concluding Shedd complied with the law.

Huckabay emailed The Comment that the City Attorney had opined CFS had to file with the PDC in an effort to discredit CFS. But under a Public Records Request filed by The Comment, emails produced by Huckabay revealed this claim to be false: the City Attorney rendered no opinion on this issue.

While this was going on, Huckabay’s obsession with ridding the Council of Valderrama began to emerge. Even before Valderrama decided whether to seek reelection, a Redmond resident named Stephanie Megan Pipes filed an unprecedented Public Records Request for all of Valderrama’s 2014 emails and specifically any relating to Republic Services, the garbage and recycling collector, including all emails from Valderrama’s private email address relating to City activities and Republic. Pipes also filed a request for Council Member Nancy Whitten’s emails for the same period, but related only to Republic. At the time, Whitten hadn’t decided whether to seek reelection.

In the age of the Internet, it didn’t take Valderrama long to make a circumstantial case that Pipes was fronting for Huckabay. What isn’t circumstantial is that immediately after the PRR was filed, all Council Members were notified of the request, something that hadn’t typically occurred previously if a PRR were requested of a specific Council Member rather than all of them. Valderrama complained to City Manager Ben Yazici, who replied that this was policy—which Valderrama disputed and claimed this was a fishing expedition that was politically motivated.

(As someone who had filed PRRs with the City from time-to-time since the City’s incorporation, this was the first time this writer had ever heard of a Council-wide notification by Staff of a PRR request aimed only at specific Council Members or specific topics.)

What is also not in dispute is that Odell immediately sent an email to Staff and the Council that “in the interests of full transparency,” the year’s worth of emails from Valderrama should be provided to all Council Members. Huckabay seconded this request.

Given the sheer volume of emails that had to be produced, Staff indicated this would take some time to collect the City emails; and Valderrama had to do a manual search of his own email address to comply.

Huckabay repeatedly asked when the records were going to be produced.

The City, meantime, ran into a problem: some emails on the City server were corrupted and at least one or more were deemed exempt from production. Staff asked Pipes, by email, if she wanted to pursue the corrupted files and advised that if she wanted the exempt emails, she would have to go to Court to get them. Pipes replied she did not wish to pursue either.

But Huckabay did. She demanded all the emails for which Pipes had “changed her mind,” including the corrupt emails and the exempt ones. This demand was deemed a PRR in its own right.

What by now was clear is that Huckabay was fishing for something. The City told Huckabay that she, like Pipes, would have to go to court to make the case to get the exempt records. A Court date is tomorrow.

Valderrama, for his part, stayed out of the back-and-forth. Nothing was ever produced to discredit Valderrama, either in the emails or with respect to Republic Services.

 The Sammamish Review, in a rare show of actually reporting something more than Sunshine news, detailed the Pipes PRR but did not follow up on the Huckabay activities; The Sammamish Comment reported on this.

The Comment also reported that the Gang of 4 tried to recruit a candidate to run against Valderrama, succeeding in persuading Parks Commissioner Hank Klein to run, but he dropped out two months later. It was too late to remove his name from the ballot, however. He did no campaigning and did not raise money.

The Gang of 4 then pressured several people who endorsed Valderrama to withdraw their endorsements and instead endorse Klein (this before he dropped out); to remove their titles that Valderrama posted, with mixed success; and to endorse Vance and Cross instead of Hornish and Malchow, also with some success. The Comment reported on these efforts.

Emails provided The Comment under a PRR conclusively show that Huckabay and Odell were behind the early contacts of Valderrama endorsements.

These machinations served to galvanize Valderrama’s supporters. More to the point, despite Klein’s dropping out, these shenanigans spurred Valderrama to campaign, advertise and raise money as if he had active opposition. The Huckabay efforts over the emails led Valderrama to conclude that last minute “dirt” might be thrown.

Valderrama’s campaigning broadened to include Hornish and Malchow at campaign events, on the theory that there would be a coattail effect.

Meanwhile, CFS chairman Shedd was so incensed at Huckabay’s efforts to shut down CFS’s ability to hold meetings at the Boys and Girls Club and Fire Station 82 that he created a Political Action Comment (PAC), after initially rejecting the idea. The Coalition for Transparent Government undertook independent expenditures for advertising and mailers in advance of the election. Advertising began in September and continued up to the last weekend before the election, promoting Valderrama, Malchow and Hornish in one-third page color ads in The Sammamish Review.

Environmentalist Pereyra, Shedd and others funded the Coalition, normally an odd set of bedfellows of left and right, environmentalists and property rights people who historically lined up in opposition to each other.

The Newcomer Candidates

Christie Malchow

Malchow was only 19 years old when Patty Murray was elected US Senator, succeeding incumbent Brock Adams, who did not seek reelection due to allegations of sexual

Patty Murray

improprieties. Murray was dismissed in her campaign as just a mother in tennis shoes. Similarly, Malchow was dismissed as a serious candidate.

Huckabay called her a Tea Party candidate (untrue). What was true is she had lived here just four years. It was also true she got her baptism of fire in a NIMBY appeal of Chestnut Estates West (which Pereyra, the environmentalist, also appealed). Friends of Pine Lake joined in an appeal of the project and even the developer appealed a condition imposed by the City Staff.

It was a multi-faceted appeal: FOPL and Pereyra went after environmental issues, Malchow, leading her neighborhood association, appealed on traffic. The developer had his own issues.

The Hearing Examiner voided the plat approval, criticizing the Staff for approving the project in the first place in violation of its own codes.

While this was going on, Malchow applied to join the Planning Commission. She was rejected by the Council (largely on Huckabay’s lead, according to another Council Member). It was another miscalculation. Had she been appointed, Malchow worried that she would find it hard to turn around and run for office within months of the appointment. The Council solved this problem for her.

Malchow proved an aggressive, tenacious candidate. She began campaigning early. She door belled. She went to events. She raised a lot of money. And she got a lot of endorsements. She also fit a demographic of Sammamish—a young mother with two small children—that never had representation on the Council.

Hornish, on the other hand, was a reluctant candidate. He’s only lived here two years, and he worried that this was not enough. But he got his baptism of fire as president of the Sammamish Home

Tom Hornish

Owners association, the group that was formed for the property owners along East Lake Sammamish Trail. He appeared before the City Council on a number of occasions to protest how King County was developing the trail, running roughshod over the environment and property owners in the process. His appearances fell on deaf ears—Vance’s ears, Huckabay’s ears, the Council’s collective ears, except for Valderrama. Frustrated, but visible, the recruitment began.

When no other credible candidate appeared to challenge Vance, Hornish agreed to do so—he didn’t want to see Vance run unopposed.

But then Hornish “disappeared” for July and early August. Instead of campaigning, his time demands were focused elsewhere, including the unexpected death of his mother. While supporters could hardly criticize him, they fretted his late start would handicap his campaign. Then, being a complete novice as a candidate, Hornish struggled to find his stride.

This absence and novelty probably encouraged Vance’s complacency, but by September Vance was worried enough to begin his own door belling. By the middle of October, panic clearly set in.

Vance’s “Conversations with the Mayor” advertising in The Sammamish Review became petulant, accusatory and shrill. The high road Vance had taken up to that point descended into the low road, a disappointing end for the policy wonk’s campaign that he ran. An election eve update to his website took the low road even lower.

Concurrent with Vance’s panic, Huckabay began her push-polling style email campaign. The V-3 quickly began getting forwarded emails with commentary decrying the messaging. It was anecdotal evidence that the Huckabay effort was backfiring.

Election Night

In the absence of polling, there were only gut-feelings going into the election. But given the mood of the national electorate toward incumbents, the development issues, Huckabay’s galvanizing effect, the boob factor and more, the V-3 and their supporters were optimistic.

The Election Night results were stunning in their definitiveness. Malchow, 59%. Valderamma, 82%. Hornish, 55%.

The message to the City Council is clear:

  • Citizens are unhappy with the direction of the Council and Administration.
  • They weren’t being heard, so they made their voices heard where it counted most, at the ballot box.
  • New approaches to listening to citizens are required.
  • Development codes need to be followed.
  • New priorities need to be set.
  • Efforts to silence those with whom the Ruling Majority disagreed were repudiated.

What’s Next

Hornish and Malchow don’t take office until January 2, but Hornish said on Election Night he wants to see the Council’s annual retreat held locally. It’s been at Suncadia Lodge, east of the Mountains, for several years. The dates are Jan. 14-16; the location hasn’t been set yet. Setting the retreat locally will be convenient for citizens who want to attend.

The decision will be made by the current City Council.

Sammamish Comment is already aware of four people who are interested in running for Council in 2017: two from the Klahanie annexation area and two from legacy Sammamish. Odell and Huckabay are already targeted. They, along with Bob Keller and Don Gerend, will face reelection or retirement in two years.

Dino Rossi, a Sammamish resident and former State Senator, is also rumored to be interested in running for Council. Rossi, who was at the V-3 Election Night party, declined comment for the record.

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2 Responses to How Sammamish veterans lost their City Council races

  1. Pingback: Lake Trail overhangs Sammamish politics for 20 years | Sammamish Comment

  2. Pingback: Sammamish electeds have history of using private email accounts | Sammamish Comment

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