Partisan race shaping up for Whatcom council seat

The nonpartisan race for a seat on the Whatcom County Council is down to two partisan candidates.

Todd Donovan, a Western Washington University professor whose campaign mailers described him as “Democratic,” had a wide lead after the first primary ballot count, released at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 4. Bruce Ayers, a professional land surveyor who had the support of county Republicans, came in second among voters in the county’s mostly liberal south district.

Donovan and Ayers will face off in the Nov. 3 countywide election to fill one of two contested seats on the County Council.

Donovan had 61.6 percent percent of the vote Tuesday night. Ayers received 16.9 percent of the vote. Ballots remain to be counted, but the two had comfortable leads over the two other candidates: South Fork Valley resident Theresa Sygitowicz (10.8 percent), and Emily Weaver of Bellingham (10.7 percent).

Donovan said his success wasn’t due solely to voting habits in District 1.

“It takes more than just Democrats to get those numbers, even in the first district,” Donovan said. “We’re getting some crossover support there.”

Ayers was more inclined to credit the Democratic majority in the district for Donovan’s result.

“We know that the Democrats are strong in the first district. They’ve been strong in the last couple of elections,” Ayers said. “It’s too bad it’s that big a margin, but it’s not unexpected.”

Donovan might have played up his ties to Democrats to win votes, Ayers said, but he also would be inclined to take advantage of his party connection.

“I embrace who I am,” Ayers said. “I’m a past chair of the party. I’m a conservative. I’m a Republican.”

Whoever is elected to the seven-member council in November will address the need for a new county jail, help manage cleanup of Lake Whatcom and possibly vote on a proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point.

Weaver, who was a County Council member from 1988 to 1991, said with the two remaining candidates, the race now is about money and partisanship.

The $30,000-plus raised by Donovan was “60 times” what Weaver spent, she said. Ayers has raised $8,000 so far.

“The supporters I had didn’t want to see it be about money, but it’s going to be about money,” Weaver said.

“It’s interesting in a nonpartisan race you have a partisan race,” Weaver added. “I’m interested to see how the voters in the fall take to that. When you get the job, you represent everybody. You’re not partisan.”

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com.