Burr and Murphy vie for seat on Bellingham council

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 26, 2013 

2013 elections

MCT

BELLINGHAM - City Council candidate Bob Burr tries to turn his lack of campaign cash and high-powered endorsements into an asset.

"Everybody loves an underdog," Burr said at an Oct. 24 candidates' forum sponsored by The Bellingham Herald and the League of Women Voters. "Love me. Vote for me. Support me."

Burr told the audience that organizations he has supported for years had declined to endorse him because they don't think he's likely to win.

Burr, 71, is a retired insurance executive and community activist who stresses his opposition to the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export project proposed at Cherry Point. In December 2011, he was one of 12 people arrested on trespassing and obstruction charges during an anti-coal protest that briefly blocked BNSF Railway Co. tracks in Bellingham. He says his outrage over the current council's decision to block a public vote on a coal train ban gave him all the reason he needed to enter the race.

Roxanne Murphy, 37, is assistant administrator for the Nooksack Indian Tribe. She too has a strong position against the coal terminal.

"I'm opposed to the Gateway Pacific Terminal as a member of the Nooksack Indian Tribe who wants to protect our people, environment, Native American burial grounds and the land of all our residents and creatures," she said in response to The Herald's candidate questionnaire.

The two candidates acknowledge they have few sharp differences on major issues. One difference: Burr opposes the city's ban on personal fireworks that will take effect July Fourth 2014. Murphy supports it.

The ban was enacted last June on a council 4-3 vote. While there are no plans to take up the ban ordinance before it takes effect, that might change if ban opponent Clayton Petree, rather than supporter Pinky Vargas, replaces retiring ban supporter Stan Snapp in the Nov. 5 election, and if Burr pulls off an upset against Murphy.

Burr and Murphy are competing for the seat being vacated by fireworks ban opponent Seth Fleetwood. If both Murphy and Petree are elected, any vote on the council would still likely be 4-3 in favor of the ban.

Burr and Murphy also differ somewhat on another contentious issue that is scheduled for council review in 2014: a possible new system to license and inspect rental housing. Advocates of such a system say it is needed to improve health and safety of apartments and rental houses.

Burr said he favors a system of registration, rather than licensing, for rental properties. The registration system he envisions would include regular inspections.

Murphy said she would give rental licensing proposals a serious look if elected, but also said getting all landlords into a licensing system may be difficult. She said she prefers increased emphasis on enforcement of existing laws, focusing on a crackdown on rental properties that are already violating public nuisance regulations.

At the end of their forum presentations, Burr labeled Murphy the "handpicked choice" of an influential group of local activist women who are working to increase diversity in local politics.

Murphy was quick to respond.

"I can't help but feel I'm back in the affirmative action days where I'm jumping up and down saying 'Yes I am a woman, yes I am Native American, but I'm really qualified,'" she said.

MORE CANDIDATE INFORMATION

To see responses to various issues from these and other candidates on the Nov. 5 ballot, go to our online voter guide.

This is one in a series of articles on races in the November general election. Other articles are at BellinghamHerald.com/elections.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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