Local Election

Four candidates want to be Bellingham’s mayor. Here’s what you need to know about them

Here’s what you need to know about Whatcom’s 2019 primary election

With 136 public offices on the ballot this August, you’ll want to pay attention to these changes as Election Day approaches.
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With 136 public offices on the ballot this August, you’ll want to pay attention to these changes as Election Day approaches.

Editor’s note: Campaign donations and expenditures were updated on June 24, 2019.


With Mayor Kelli Linville not running for a third term, primary election voters will choose from four challengers who have years of public service and strong ties to the community.

It’s going to be a tough choice for many voters, but it’s a decision that will shape how Bellingham addresses what readers told us were their primary concerns in the off-year election.

Those who responded to a recent Bellingham Herald survey said homelessness, affordable housing and climate change — and how candidates respond to them — are among the most pressing local issues.

The Bellingham mayor serves a four-year term at an annual salary of $152,000.

It’s a non-partisan, full-time administrative post, responsible for the city’s day-to-day operations and managing various city departments.

The top two candidates in the Aug. 6 primary will advance to the Nov. 5 general election.

Primary ballots will be mailed July 17. Ballots don’t need a stamp but must be postmarked by Election Day. Ballot drop boxes open July 17 and close at 8 p.m. on Election Day, Aug. 6.

These are the candidates for Bellingham mayor:

April Barker

Barker, 45, is a member of the Bellingham City Council representing Ward 1, a substitute teacher in Bellingham schools and manages three rental homes.

Bio: She is married with two school-age children. Barker played volleyball on a full scholarship for Kent State University and earned a bachelor’s degree from Fort Lewis College. She earned a master’s degree in human movement and performance from Western Washington University. On the council, she is chair of the Planning and Community Development Committee and a member of the Justice, Finance and Public Works committees and the Franchise and Accessibility Technology Committee. Barker is a liaison to the Sustainable Connections board and the Bellingham Public Library board. She also serves on the Bellingham International Airport Advisory Committee and the boards of the Whatcom Transportation Authority and Amigos de Birchwood, among other community involvement.

Neighborhood: Birchwood.

Funds raised: $28,373 through June 10; $29,766 through June 23.

Funds spent: $13,190 through June 10; $13,190 through June 23.

Largest contributors: James Roe of Anacortes, Larry McCarter of Bellingham and the Lummi Indian Business Council all contributed the maximum $2,000 each. Individual supporters gave nearly $24,000. About $4,000 in contributions came from businesses.

She says: “With me as your mayor, Bellingham will address climate change and improve our sense of community and quality of life by creating more affordable housing in every corner of our city; that means housing for seniors, diverse housing options for our increasingly diverse community, and housing that matches the jobs we have. The most important thing Bellingham can do to address climate change is to welcome more people into our city, so we can protect the lands that produce our food and the natural environment that we all treasure. There will be no lasting climate solutions without justice, and I am the only candidate for mayor who puts community, fairness, and environment first.”

Endorsements: 42nd District Democrats; Riveter’s Collective; National Women’s Political Caucus; Dean Fearing, executive director of the Kulshan Community Land Trust; Emily O’Connor, executive director of Lydia Place; Port Commissioner Michael Shepard; Kimberly Harris, co-founder of the Bellingham Racial Justice Coalition

Website: aprilbarker.com, April Barker for Bellingham on Facebook.

Seth Fleetwood

Fleetwood, 56, is a lawyer in private practice.

Bio: He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Washington and a law degree from Willamette University. He is a former member of the County Council and Bellingham City Council, serving two terms each. He co-founded the Bellingham Growth Forums to influence government decisions on housing density and sponsored and co-founded the Countywide Housing Affordability Task Force that resulted in the creation of a Bellingham Home Fund. He was an early proponent of the Bellingham Greenways Program and helped develop the Waterfront Master Plan.

Neighborhood: South Hill.

Funds raised: $6,600 through June 10; $18,163 through June 23.

Funds spent: $63 through June 10; $6,623 through June 23.

Largest contributors: John Binns of Blaine and Julie Fleetwood of Bellingham each donated $1,000. Almost all of his contributions are from individual donors.

He says: ”How we respond to change and challenge is the issue in this race, and doing so in ways that only make Bellingham better. Many of the ‘issues of the day’ share a common thread, a sense that the things we value are at risk — normal climate, housing we can afford, jobs that pay well, safe neighborhoods, our charming character — or that those things may remain out of reach, especially for those who have not been included. I’m running on my record of collaborative and successful leadership over decades which has helped create a legacy of progress on water quality, growth issues, greenways, housing affordability and waste, always seeking to address our most fundamental problems. I hope that record gives trust and confidence for how I would perform as mayor.

Endorsements: Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust; Bellingham artist Jody Bergsma; the Sierra Club; Vernon Damani Johnson, a professor of political science at Western Washington University; Darrell Hillaire, executive director of Children of the Setting Sun Productions and former treasurer for the Lummi Indian Business Council; and Barbara Ryan, former member of the Bellingham City Council.

Website: sethfleetwood.com, Seth Fleetwood for Mayor on Facebook.

Garrett O’Brien

O’Brien, 39, is a member of the Bellingham Planning Commission, a home builder and owner of Volonta Corp.

Bio: He is a lifelong Bellingham resident who is married with three school-age daughters. He earned a bachelor’s degree in construction management from Central Washington University.

Neighborhood: Birchwood.

Funds raised: $28,132 through June 10; $33,372 through June 23.

Funds spent: $19,518 through June 10; $19,518 through June 23.

Largest contributors: Moa Brent of Bellingham gave $2,000. Paula O’Brien, Jamie Shannon, Ralph Bajema, all of Bellingham, gave $1,000 each. More than $25,000 of his donations came from individual contributors. About $2,500 came from businesses.

He says: “Housing is a huge concern for me, it’s too expensive and we don’t have enough options for people. I’m optimistic that we can turn it around here, and I feel fortunate to have experience serving on our Planning Commission as well as building housing in our community. I have worked hard to develop a comprehensive city-wide Housing Innovation Project and there seems to be a lot of excitement around that.”

Endorsements: Bellingham Police Guild, Bellingham/Whatcom County Firefighters IAFF Local 106.

Website: obrienformayor.org, Garrett O’Brien for Bellingham Mayor on Facebook.

Pinky Vargas

Vargas, 51, is a member of the Bellingham City Council, representing Ward 4, and a senior business account manager for Puget Sound Energy, serving the utility company’s major customers

Bio: She was born and raised in a large family in northern Alberta, is in the first year of her second four-year term on the City Council. She is chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee and serves on the Lodging Tax Allocation Committee and the Finance and Personnel and Justice committees. She’s a member of Whatcom Tourism Board and the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce. She helped bring the Georgetown University Energy Prize competition to the Bellingham and the city won third Place. She does volunteer work for the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, Recreation Northwest, Critical Northwest, Allied Arts, Habitat for Humanity, SeaFeast, Washington Conservation Voters, and WWU Women in Energy. She started her political career as a volunteer for the Greenways measures.

Vargas was the Democratic Party’s candidate in the 2018 race for 42nd District state Senate, losing to Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, by 46 votes out of more than 72,000 cast.

Neighborhood: Alabama Hill.

Funds raised: $19,857 through June 10; $20,732 through June 23.

Funds spent: $15,165 through June 10; $15,165 through June 23.

Largest contributors: Cathy Watson and Wendy Lawrence of Ferndale and Sam Lamb of Seattle gave $1,000 each. She has more than $17,500 in individual contributions and about $1,300 from businesses.

She says: “Housing affordability is the most critical issue for so many of our residents, those who currently have no roof at all, to workforce and market-rate housing. We need to solve this for the immediate crisis and address the long-term structural issues. Everyone deserves to be safe, and have a job, a home, and opportunity to succeed.”

Endorsements: Washington Laborers Union, Local 292; National Women’s Political Caucus; Whatcom County Council members Carol Frazey, Rud Browne and Todd Donovan; state Sens. Liz Lovelett, D-40th District, Sharon Nelson, D-34th District, and Mona Das, D-47th District; and Bellingham community leaders Stan Snapp, Jill Bernstein, Bob Goodwin and John Jenkins.

Website: VotePinkyVargas.com, Vote Pinky Vargas on Facebook.


Coming tomorrow: Candidates for Bellingham City Council, Ward 1.

Follow more of our reporting on News and information for voters in Whatcom County

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Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.