Pete Kremen, an old-school politician who preferred compromise over party identity, announced on Monday, March 2, that he will retire after more than three decades in public office.
Kremen, 63, is retiring from the Whatcom County Council after one term. He will remain in office until his term ends, in January. In a statement released early Monday, Kremen said he wanted to spend more time with his wife Fidela, who recently retired from her job with PeaceHealth.
Before his relatively short stint on the council, Kremen served 16 years as county executive. Before that, he was a state representative for 11 years.
Kremen has been a politically moderate influence on the recent council, which came under the tea party wave in the 2009 elections, followed by a progressive takeover in 2013.
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“I think Pete represents very much a moderate view on the council,” council member Carl Weimer said on Monday. “I think his favorite words in the whole world are ‘collaboration’ and ‘cooperation,’ which are a reflection of how he works on the council.”
Kremen said he learned his political approach in his first years in the state House of Representatives, which he joined in 1985 as a Democrat.
“I got some very good training at a time before partisanship became extreme,” Kremen said on Monday. “It was the norm and not the exception to work in a bipartisan way.”
Kremen’s ability to work with both parties helped engineer the complicated land transfer around Lake Whatcom that became known as the “reconveyance.” The county acquired 8,844 acres of forestland on the lake after a final council vote in 2013. The effort to make the land deal began almost a decade earlier, when he was county executive, Kremen said.
The land was managed by the Department of Natural Resources, which had two directors during the reconveyance negotiations: the Republican Doug Sutherland and then the Democratic Peter Goldmark.
“I had a relationship with Sutherland and Goldmark as a legislator, so I think that was useful,” Kremen said.
He also said he was able to “collaborate” on the reconveyance with council members “who might not otherwise be supportive of the effort.” The council had three solidly conservative members two years ago but voted 5-2 to take the state land out of timber harvesting for use as a park.
“First and foremost, that effort was aimed at protecting the Lake Whatcom watershed, and then secondarily the realization of low-impact recreational opportunities,” Kremen said.
Kremen said in his statement that he was announcing his retirement early to give potential candidates in Council District 1 time to organize a campaign. District 1 includes south Bellingham and the south county. Office seekers must file during the week of May 11 to appear on the ballot.
“There aren’t that many people that have had the opportunities that I’ve had,” Kremen said, “and I will always cherish the privilege of serving the people of this community.”
Here’s Kremen’s full statement:
Whatcom County Council Member Pete Kremen announced today that he will not seek a second term on the Council. The former County Executive and State Representative said his run of 31 years as an elected official will come to an end after his current term expires next January.
Kremen cited a desire to spend more time with his wife Fidela, who recently retired from more than 40 years employment at St. Joseph/Peace Health Medical Center. “This has been a tough decision because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time on the Council,” stated Kremen. “I’m so blessed to have had the opportunity and honor of serving the people in our community at both the state and local levels for most of my adult life.”
The 63 year old Kremen was first elected to public office in 1984 when he defeated incumbent Representative Roger Van Dyken by 10 votes in the closest legislative race in Whatcom County history. In all, he was elected to six two-year terms representing the 42nd District in the Washington State House of Representatives from January 1985 to December 1995.
In November 1995, Kremen was elected leader of the Executive branch of Whatcom County Government and served as the Executive for 16 years until retiring from that position in January 2012. His four terms as Executive stands as the longest tenure for a County Executive in state history. In 2011 he ran successfully for the County Council, and his term representing the 1st District will end in early January of 2016.
The former broadcast journalist and his wife moved to Bellingham in 1974 when he assumed the position of News and Public Affairs Director for KBFW radio and moved across town to take on the same position at KPUG/KNWR, where he worked for more than seven years before his run for the state Legislature.
Kremen is making the announcement not to seek re-election now so individuals who might consider serving on the Council will have enough time to plan accordingly. “This was not an easy decision for me and I know I’ll miss public service a great deal. However there are other ways I can contribute to the community in the future,” he said.