Sidhu’s appointment to Whatcom council clouded by accusation of political ‘ploy’

Satpal S. Sidhu
Satpal S. Sidhu The Bellingham Herald

Satpal Sidhu of Lynden is the newest Whatcom County Council member, after being appointed by the rest of the council on Tuesday, March 17.

Kathy Kershner, who was on the council from 2010 to 2013, also applied for the seat but didn’t get any votes. She congratulated Sidhu in an email to The Bellingham Herald on Wednesday, March 18, but derided his appointment as “Whatcom politics as usual.”

Council voted 5 to 1 to put Sidhu in the seat vacated on March 1 by 15-year council member Sam Crawford. Sidhu will join the council on March 31.

“It is a great honor and privilege to be nominated to the Whatcom County Council,” Sidhu wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday night. “I am humbled by the majority vote by the council members to show their confidence in me to represent the people of Whatcom County. This is a sign of progress in Whatcom County, welcoming all the residents to be part of the governance.”

Kershner said two council members asked her to say publicly that she wouldn’t seek the council seat in the fall election. Council members said she had been indicating that she wouldn’t run but hadn’t said so publicly.

Kershner said she would not participate in what amounted to a political ploy to eliminate her from the race to hold the office for the next four years.

“One cannot underestimate their self-serving politics in the selection of Sidhu,” Kershner wrote. “It is Whatcom politics as usual and not a surprise to most.”

Council member Ken Mann was one of the two council members who had asked Kershner to commit to not running for election. If she were to do so, Mann said in a Feb. 23 email to Kershner, “it would be very, very influential in my decision.”

Reached by phone on Wednesday, Mann dismissed Kershner’s accusation that he was playing politics with the appointment.

“I don’t like the idea of giving someone a leg up in a re-election campaign, which was why that was an important criteria for me, but neither (Sidhu nor Kershner) made that kind of a pledge,” Mann said Wednesday.

“All things being equal in terms of intentions to run again, I felt like (Sidhu’s) values and his perspectives were more moderate and more centrist and more reflective of the entire county.”

Kershner has served as an officer in the county Republican Party. A third applicant, Jim Cozad, has worked on behalf of homeless people and former prison inmates.

Sidhu has said publicly he is interested in running for the position. Cozad, on the other hand, made it clear he would not run for the seat later this year. Council member Barbara Brenner voted for Cozad for that reason.

On Wednesday, Kershner left open the question of whether she would run for the council position.

“Our local campaigns now require larger sums of money, people, support, strategy, teamwork, and a lot of work,” Kershner wrote. “It’s not a decision one makes without serious contemplation.”

Sidhu, 65, may be the first Punjabi and the first Sikh to sit on the County Council, but neither the new appointee nor the council members who voted for him spoke of the decision in light of Sidhu’s ethnicity.

“Ultimately I came to the decision that he was the best candidate in many ways,” council member Carl Weimer said in an interview Wednesday. “He has a rich experience in business development, higher education and engineering. His resume dwarfs the rest of us altogether.”

Sidhu owns two businesses — Spice Hut, run by his wife, Mundir Sidhu; and LyndenBerry, a processed-berry exporter. Formerly, he was president of a solar-power company and dean of engineering and trades at Bellingham Technical College. He has degrees in business, engineering, physics and math.

“People should get ahead or get in a political arena by their ideas and their background and the work they have done in the community, not by ethnicity,” Sidhu said.

Nor should people be excluded based on what part of the world they came from, he said.

“That’s something that makes America different than the rest of the world,” Sidhu said. “We all have come from different places, and people with good ideas and hard work — those are the only two qualifications.”

In his application and during a five-minute speech in front of the council on March 3, Sidhu said he would bring a pragmatic rather than a partisan approach to decision-making on the council. A self-described centrist, Sidhu said he supported economic development and environmental protection.

Sidhu ran as a Democrat in 2014 for a vacant seat in the state House of Representatives, to represent the north county. He was defeated by Republican Luanne Van Werven.