Local Election

Hard-fought Whatcom Council and Port of Bellingham races are close

Eric Bemis drops off his ballot with Bixx the dog  in downtown Bellingham, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017.
Eric Bemis drops off his ballot with Bixx the dog in downtown Bellingham, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

In a heated race for a new at-large seat on the Whatcom County Council, Barry Buchanan was leading challenger Mary Kay Robinson, according to preliminary election results Tuesday night.

Buchanan had 51.5 percent of the votes compared to 48.4 percent for Robinson. A total of 1,295 votes separated them.

“We can keep up with big money by working hard,” Buchanan said of the coordinated campaign led by the Whatcom Democrats in which 64,000 homes were door-belled.

There were a few days yet and ballots still to come in, he added, but “I feel really good about it.”

Robinson also struck a positive note.

“I’m feeling good about the results. Obviously, it’s not over yet,” Robinson said. “We’re going to wait until the last vote is counted.”

This election season was the first to have new Whatcom County Council districts, which voters approved in 2016.

Seats in new Districts 1, 2 and 3, plus one at-large seat, were up for election this year.

The race between Buchanan, serving his first term on the County Council, and Robinson was the one that had the most money pouring into it.

While the two had roughly the same amount of contributions – about $52,000 for Robinson and $51,000 for Buchanan – the total independent expenditures for Robinson was by far the largest.

Independent expenditures are made by third parties without a candidate’s approval or collaboration.

Public Disclosure Commission filings showed the Washington Realtors Political Action Committee spent $100,770 to support Robinson, who has a background in real estate. A representative for Whatcom County Association of Realtors said the county organization asked the state organization for help with a race he described as a “toss-up.”

Buchanan, meanwhile had $12,289 in independent expenditures, with $11,550 from the Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund and the remainder from Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest.

In the race for the new District 1 seat, incumbent Rud Browne easily won a second term on the County Council, beating challenger Philip Morgan, with 80.8 percent of the votes, the initial results indicated.

Browne was elected at-large in 2013.

Todd Donovan, halfway into his first time on the council, beat challenger Amy Glasser for the new District 2 seat. He garnered 66.6 percent of the votes to Glasser’s 33.3 percent.

In the new District 3 seat, Tyler Byrd was leading Rebecca Boonstra with 54.1 percent of the vote. She had 45.8 percent.

“I think there’s a lot to still come in but so far I’m very optimistic,” Byrd said of remaining ballots.

Port of Bellingham

Two of the three seats on the Port of Bellingham were up for election, and both were too close to call.

Incumbent Dan Robbins, who was seeking a second term, was edging out challenger Michael Shepard. He had 50.2 percent of the votes to Shepard’s 49.7 percent.

A total of 222 votes separated them.

“It’s going to be close, no two ways about it,” Robbins said. “I can’t thank all the people enough. My gosh, what a herculean effort by everybody.”

Shepard said his campaign had a strong end game and turned out a lot of votes at the end. He felt positive about the votes being counted in the next few days, he added.

In the seat left open by Michael McAuley, who didn’t seek a third term, Ken Bell was slightly ahead of Barry Wenger.

Bell had 51.9 percent of the votes to Wenger’s 48 percent.

Bellingham City Council

Bellingham voters returned all four incumbents in this election to the council.

Pinky Vargas and Gene Knutson ran unopposed.

His re-election means Knutson is heading into a seventh term on the City Council – extending his streak as the longest-serving member. He first took office in 1994.

Michael Lilliquist retained his seat, beating challenger Quenby Peterson, a Bellingham School Board member, with 74 percent of the votes to Peterson’s 25.9 percent.

Roxanne Murphy was on her way to a third term, easily beating challenger Eric Bostrom. She garnered 79.2 percent of the votes.

The next vote tally will be released by 5 p.m. Wednesday, according to the Whatcom County Auditor’s Office. The election will be certified Nov. 28.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea