After seven years in office, Kelli Linville announced she will not run for a third term as Mayor of Bellingham via social media on Feb. 5, 2019. So who will take her place after the upcoming election? Four candidates have announced their intentions to run for the position.
Pinky Vargas, a Bellingham City Council member representing Ward 4 since 2014, announced her candidacy for the position shortly after Mayor Linville’s announcement. Currently in her second four-year term on City Council, Vargas has served as council president and mayor pro-tem, or the person who steps-in in the event of the mayor’s absence.
Vargas ran against Doug Ericksen for state senator and narrowly lost by just 46 votes after a recount in November 2018, according to the Whatcom County Auditor.
According to her campaign website, Vargas hopes to make Bellingham’s economy stronger and tackle issues of homelessness and housing using her experience on the council.
“I decided to run because it's an amazing opportunity with Kelly Linville retiring and it's a total dream job to be the mayor of Bellingham,” Vargas said. “Having a strong local economy really is the foundation of what moves us forward.”
Vargas has also worked at Puget Sound Energy for the last nine years. She said she currently works with Whatcom, Snohomish, Whidbey and Skagit counties, helping business and people be more energy efficient to save money and energy. Vargas said this experience makes her uniquely equipped to work locally toward environmental solutions.
“I brought the Bellingham energy prize to the city and I worked on that wearing both of my hats,” Vargas said. “I supported that in every area of my life so that we can be an example of how we work with our schools with our municipals and with our residents on reducing energy and encouraging renewable energy.”
Originally born in Canada, Vargas said her diversity of experience is what makes her the best candidate for mayor of Bellingham.
“We need someone who's willing to be the cheerleader. We are the 13th largest city in the state and yet we often get ignored and left out of the conversation,” Vargas said. “I have a vision of a thriving and vibrant city… and I have a lot of energy.”
Garrett O’Brien is a fifth-generation Bellingham resident who has served on the Bellingham Planning Commision for the last eight years as well as run a local home building and development company, according to his campaign website.
O’Brien wants to engage more with Bellingham residents, work on housing solutions and empower local youth by investing in their futures, according to his website. He said these issues are all connected because they’re each about creating more opportunities for Bellingham’s community.
Growing up in Bellingham, O’Brien said most of his peers from working-class families were able to sustain themselves and find affordable housing in the area.
“You know, today I just feel like you have to work a lot harder for less because the housing and the cost of living has risen pretty dramatically and kind of put a lot of people at risk,” O’Brien said.
As mayor, O’Brien said he wants to work on making Bellingham a city where people can afford to live and work. He said he wants Bellingham be an accessible place where young people can grow and thrive just as he did as a kid.
O’Brien said through his work on the Planning Commission, he has visited many Bellingham neighborhoods to learn how to appropriately develop the area to best suit the community. He said he wants to take this experience into the mayor’s office to work on Bellingham’s housing issue.
“Neighborhoods are more than just lines on a map. They’re places we call home,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got to be really thoughtful about our growth policies and how they impact the livability and quality of our neighborhoods.”
He said running his business has also given him insight on how to lead a diverse group of people to work toward a common goal.
April Barker has represented Ward 1 on the Bellingham City Council for the last four years. Barker said she originally moved to Bellingham to attend Western, where she earned a master’s in Human Movement and Performance.
While she never intended to run for public office, Barker said she ran for City Council when she saw a need in the community she has been a part of for the last 20 years.
Barker said as mayor, she wants to work on climate action, creating a city that works for all community members and transitioning into restorative justice.
“The most important [issue] is building a community that works for the youngest and the oldest because when we do that, everybody in between benefits,” Barker said.
Barker said Bellingham’s fastest growing population are seniors, and like many places around the country, weather is becoming more unpredictable. She said many of Bellingham’s challenges are able to be solved, it’s just going to take some work.
“I do feel like we have enough to go around,” Barker said. “But we have to get to work because we don't have the support services for our seniors that are going to be aging and needing to age-in-place.”
As a council member, Barker said she helped form the Whatcom Housing Alliance. She said she has learned the importance of connecting with all of the different communities within Bellingham to understand their viewpoint and come up with equitable solutions.
Barker said as mayor, she would strive to make Bellingham a place that reflects the values of the people who live here.
“I believe in Bellingham. I'm a leader who gets things done and a bridge builder and I care deeply for this community,” Barker said. “As your mayor, I'd be moving Bellingham forward to be the city that I think we all yearn for.
Seth Fleetwood, attorney at law in Bellingham, announced his candidacy for mayor March 21. Born and raised in Bellingham, Fleetwood said both of his parents were involved in Bellingham’s education systems. He said his father was the chair of the philosophy department at Western, and his mother was a teacher with Bellingham Public Schools when he was growing up.
Fleetwood has been an attorney in Bellingham for 25 years where he has his own firm under his name. He served on Whatcom County Council for two terms, from 2002-2010 and Bellingham City Council for two terms from 2010-2014, according to his campaign website.
During his time in office, Fleetwood said he co-chaired the campaign in 1997 to secure the second levy for the Bellingham Greenways Program, which provides money for parks and trails in the city.
According to his website, one of Fleetwood’s priorities as mayor would be to ensure as Bellingham grows it simultaneously improves the quality of life in the city. Fleetwood said he would also prioritize the issue of homelessness and home affordability.
Fleetwood said he was co-founder and co-chair of the Countywide Housing Affordability Taskforce which made recommendations on how to manage housing affordability, he said. Out of these recommendations, Fleetwood said he worked with citizens and sponsored the ordinance we know as the Bellingham Home Fund.
“As mayor, I would see it as the highest duty and responsibility to address those issues,” he said.
Fleetwood said he wants to focus on recommendations from CHAT, if he’s elected.
Fleetwood said Bellingham has changed over the years. He said he was drawn to politics through his work as a public interest lawyer and seeing the increasing population growth in Bellingham.
“I recall having this early awareness about the implication of growing in a certain kind of way-sprawl,” he said.
Fleetwood, a graduate of the University of Washington, said he saw the effects of urban sprawl in King County and wanted to avoid that from happening in Bellingham.
Fleetwood said that he wants to be a part of implementing the Bellingham’s comprehensive plan in a time of population increase along with pressures from climate change.
“The 2020s are going to be an enormously consequential time in Bellingham,” he said.
Bellingham’s primary election will take place on Aug. 6, 2019 and the general election will be on Nov. 5, 2019. To learn more on the candidates, visit their websites at http://votepinkyvargas.com/, www.obrienformayor.org, www.aprilbarker.com and https://sethfleetwood.com.
This article was updated on April 22, 2019 with information about candidate Seth Fleetwood.
Lauren Gallup (she/her) is the spring 2021 managing editor of The Front. She is a fourth-year news/editorial journalism major, whose writing has been featured in Klipsun, 425 and South Sound magazines. Her reporting seeks to answer, provoke and increase understanding. You can find her retweeting great journalism @thelaurengallup or reach her at email@example.com.