Candidates converge at forum as Nov. 7 election looms

Mayoral, council and senate seats to be determined

Nancy Backus, left, and Largo Wales. FILE PHOTOS

The Washington Community Action Network put on a candidate forum at St. Matthew Episcopal Church last week.

Present were Auburn Mayoral candidates Nancy Backus and her challenger, Deputy Mayor Largo Wales, and Auburn City Council Position 6 candidates Larry Brown and Mike Kahler.

Michelle Rylands, the Democratic candidate for state Senate for the 31st Legislative District, and Nate Lowry, an Edgewood City Councilman who is running as a Democrat for State Representative for the 31 District, were both there, but their Republican opponents, State Sen. Phil Fortunato and State Rep. Morgan Irwin, the latter who was appointed to fill Fortunato’s unexpired term after the King and Pierce county councils appointed Fortunato to the State Senate in January, were not.

The general election is Nov. 7.

Before she became Auburn’s first female mayor, Backus, had already spent 10 years on the Auburn City Council and worked for 25 years as a financial manager with The Boeing Co. in Auburn. She has a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

Repeating themes common to her stump speeches, Backus said she has brought hundreds of jobs to Auburn and energized its business climate. At $25 per hour, Auburn now has one of the highest hourly-wage rates in the Puget Sound Region, she said, and she promised to continue to bring more living-wage jobs and affordable housing to Auburn.

As for public safety, Backus said, she has hired 14 new police officers.

In 2015 Backus convened a task force to study the homeless problem and make recommendations. Last month, the City of Auburn opened the Ray of Hope Resource Center for the homeless adjacent to Valley Cities on I Street Northeast in partnership with the Auburn Food Bank and Valley Cities.

Wales, who has lived in Auburn since 1982, is retired from the Auburn School District, worked post-retirement with the South King County Regional Leadership Institute; consulted at the Puyallup and Orting school districts, and served as executive director of ACAP.

Her educational background includes: a bachelor of arts degree, Washington State University; a master of arts degree, University of Puget Sound; a doctoral degree, Seattle University; and a post-doctoral work, Columbia University.

She criticized Backus for allegedly failing to provide leadership, for being ineffective at handling the homeless crisis in Auburn, for “sitting behind her desk at City Hall” behind a closed door, and of being cut off from the council, the community and other cities.

Asked what policies Auburn should adopt to strengthen its status as an inclusive city, as the City Council voted for last spring, Backus and Wales responded as follows:

“Honestly, you can adopt something, but if you don’t do something about it, it’s meaningless,” Backus said. “So what we need to be doing, and what I have been doing, is outreach to our entire community. I’m not sitting behind my desk at City Hall, and my door certainly is not closed. I am out in the community, I am out amongst among all of you.

“We have started through the Healthy Auburn task force … meetings on a monthly basis at Gildo Rey Elementary School with our Latino community. They started out not trusting us, and over time, we have built that trust. We have brought in police officers so they understand how to call 911, we have taught them the difference between Immigration and local police, and we have even set up English classes for the parents,” Backus said.

“I see this DACA and immigration and all those things as being national issues,” Wales responded. “And we need to work to make sure we are a welcoming place for our immigrants and refugees and follow through on our resolution to be inclusive. We need to make sure that’s inclusive in our churches, in our city government, in our schools, in our business places; to make sure everybody has the opportunity for the things they came to this country for, or were born into,” Wales said.

City Council race

Larry Brown and his wife, Dawn, moved to Auburn in 1979 after his discharge from the U.S. Navy. He went to work as a machinist at Boeing and enrolled at Green River Community College. As he worked his way through leadership roles with the Machinist’s Union, Brown said, he developed his avid interest in politics and public policy. In 2005 he became the union’s legislative and political director. In that role, Brown said, he encouraged the state to focus more resources on work force development.

In 1998, Gov. Christine Gregoire appointed Brown to the GRCC Board of Trustees. In 2009 he said, he successfully lobbied the governor to fund the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee. In 2011, he said, he sought and was appointed to the Board of Community and Technical Colleges, which oversees 34 such colleges in Washington, and which he now chairs.

“I believe education and transportation infrastructure investment create the best opportunity for good family-wage jobs in community,” Brown said, adding that, if elected, he would “continue to work on good public policy to create prosperity, while I will always fight for a strong social safety net.”

Mike Kahler and his wife have lived in Auburn for 34 years, and here is where they raised their children. For the last two years, he has managed the Auburn Valley Humane Society’s Thrift Store. Indeed, it was his encounters with homeless folk there that led him to run for a seat on the Auburn City Council and formed the issue he intends to devote much of his attention to on the Auburn City Council.

“When I took that job, that place was a nightmare,” Kahler recalled of the thrift store, describing a grim scene of homeless people, hypodermic needles, and rampant theft.

“Our store was getting ripped off blind. I can’t tell how much that aggravated me. So, after two years of work, I have nobody over there hanging out and shooting drugs behind the Dumpsters. They aren’t drinking out back any more, and the sales figures are literally jaw dropping. … So I have already gone to work,” Kahler said.

Asked as were Backus and Wales what policies Auburn should adopt to strengthen its status as an inclusive city, Brown and Kahler answered as follows:

“I think it’s very unfortunate that at a national level, we have political leaders who are inciting fear throughout our nation, and that includes here in Auburn,” Brown said. “So I think it’s incumbent upon our city and leaders here locally to do their level best to make sure that people who live and work in our community understand that they are welcome in our community. We need to be supportive in social services and other ways that we can.”

“… As Larry mentioned, we have world leaders right now that have basically taken pages out of Europe’s 1930s playbook,” Kahler responded. “At the city level, the best we can do is be color blind.”

‘Special election’

Rylands and her husband moved to Auburn nine years ago because of the reputation of the school district, and live here today with their two sons, Colin, 12, and Chase, 10.

As a mother of two children in Auburn public schools, U.S. Army veteran and PTA President Michelle Rylands said she knows how vital a high-quality education is to children and families in the district and across the state.

Ever since her eldest son entered kindergarten nearly a decade ago, the former military police officer said, she has dedicated herself to improving schools, going from classroom mother to PTA president, in which capacity she oversees and coordinates the work of PTAs across the Auburn School District and the state of Washington.

Additionally, Rylands and her husband, a federal law enforcement officer, owned DASH, a local oil and vinegar business that employed more than 10 people. In 2016, the couple shut the business down to focus on their family and respective careers in law enforcement.

Rylands, a 911 operator with a local law enforcement agency, is president of the Auburn Council of PTAs, a proud Teamsters 763 member and a member of the American Legion in Auburn.

“It’s called a special election for a reason. It is special, and we need it because we need to make a change so we can do everything that we just sit and talk about all the time,” Rylands said, urging the election of “strong Democrats” to the Legislature.

Born and raised in the North Hill/Edgewood area, Lowry attended Puyallup public schools. After working his way through college and earning a degree in landscape architecture from Washington State University, Lowry went to work for several design-build companies out of college. He earned his landscape architect license in 2010.

From 2012 until his election to the Edgewood City Council in 2015, Lowry was on the City of Edgewood Planning Commission, which he served as vice chair for from 2013 to 2015. .

“Spending taxpayer money wisely is imperative, and I have abundant, professional, political experience working with tight budgets. Living wage jobs, a well-funded educational system, an efficient transportation network, and improvements to our small-business climate, these are all things I will fight strongly for,” Lowry said.

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