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Mayoral candidates share visions for Bellingham as two advance to general election

Six candidates who fought a competitive race for November ballot discuss students’ concerns

On Tuesday, August 1, Whatcom County voters filed their ballots to be counted in the Whatcom County 2023 Primary Election. The two candidates with the most votes will both appear on the November election ballot. Each mayoral term is four years. As results roll in for the competitive mayoral race, with incumbent mayor Seth Fleetwood and challenger Kim Lund taking early leads, take a look back at candidates’ visions for the city and their goals as mayor.

For general information about voting in Whatcom County, click here

To find the status of your ballot, click here

For election results, click here

The Front spoke with the five official candidates on the ballot, including incumbent mayor Seth Fleetwood, and one write-in candidate running for the 2023 primary mayoral election. Candidates were asked about key issues impacting students and the general Bellingham community, including housing.

Editor's note: These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Mike McAuley (he/him) has lived in Bellingham since 1998 and has served as the Port of Bellingham commissioner for eight years. 

Q: With high housing costs, what can you do to help students afford rent? 

A: I think the most valuable thing that the mayor can do right now is to head on down to Olympia and lobby our legislators to get the state into the student housing game. When everything is left up to the for-profit market-rate kind of builder, there's no incentive at all for them to do anything that's less than what they can charge. That’s capitalism. I think that the best thing that the state can do for students is to build housing and offer it to them at a not-for-profit rate. 

Q: What are the top two issues facing Bellingham residents right now and what would you address if elected?

A: City-wide, the most difficult thing for every citizen is the cost of housing. So, my proposal is to use revenue bonds, and then they'll be publicly owned housing as a not-for-profit model. 

I don't think we're recognizing one of our biggest challenges, understanding and managing infill. The state legislature is ahead of the City of Bellingham on infill issues. As more and more people move here, and as our neighborhoods are even more required to put more folks into managing how we get from where we are right now, to where we are in 20 or 30 years, as more and more of this happens  — that's gonna be the biggest challenge facing Bellingham. 

Q: What is the take-home message of your campaign?

A: I like being a champion for people. But there's not a real time of the day to sit and have a beer with everybody and just say 'This is who I am,' and you're not gonna win everybody like that. That's fine. I'm just a regular guy out here. 

For more information, visit Mike McAuley’s website.

Chris McCoy (he/him) graduated from Western Washington University in 2010 and founded local business Kombucha Town in 2011. 

Q: With high housing costs, what can you do to help students afford rent?  

A: We’ve got a housing crisis which is really the biggest economic issue, which is leading to lots of social issues. There's a wide spectrum of needs there. I start with those who are undergoing the most suffering, so homelessness, which is an issue for people who are in need of basic shelter versus having limited options. Now, for students specifically, that's gonna be a conversation between the city and campus. I do believe in working with middle and lower-income renters as mayor. I'm already working with and will continue to work with advocacy groups, for people that have a higher need. 

Q: What are the top two issues facing Bellingham residents right now and what would you address if elected?

A: The top two are access to housing and living wages. It's all social and economic positions... I'm focusing on prioritization, people who are suffering the most. 

There’s a great solution called Homes Now, which is a nonprofit organization that creates tiny home villages with up to 25 residents. Creating more volume of housing for them through home sale sites would be, in my mind, the quickest and easiest way to solve that problem for the people at the bottom. 

Q: What is the take-home message of your campaign?

A: Having homes, living wages and preserving natural beauty for all is what a vote for me represents. A vote for me is investing in somebody who's got deep roots in this community, a ton of skin in the game. I've got two young kids here, and really, the main reason I'm running is because I see this town going to shit. I want to make sure that my kids have a safe place to live, and that they can live their whole life if they choose.

For more information, visit Chris McCoy’s website. 

Kristina Michele Martens (she/her) is the current City Council member at large and has served in this position since January 2022. 

Q: With high housing costs, what can you do to help students afford rent?  

A: When it comes to actually getting the rental rates lower, the first thing that I think we should be doing as a city is making price-matching algorithms illegal. If you are in a situation where you have to move, limiting the amount of fees is a great way to go. But again, I still don't think that that's getting to a bigger root of the problem.

Q: What are the top two issues facing Bellingham residents right now and what would you address if elected?

A: Robust and enforced tenant protections are number one. I just don't see any way out of any of our other issues without tackling that first because we have to stop the hemorrhaging of people onto the streets. It takes so much more time, effort and funding to get someone into rehab and to keep them from being unhoused.If we want to make any sort of positive forward momentum on addressing people or helping people who are experiencing homelessness and crisis re-enter back into the standard American lifestyle, we have to bring down all the barriers that they may have trying to get help. 

Q: What is the take-home message of your campaign?

A: If we want different solutions, we have to elect people with a wider variety of experiences. After the murder of George Floyd, I was very much ‘burn it all down, the system's broken.’ I think a lot of people were in that knee-jerk reaction. Now, being in it, it's not technically that the systems are broken. It's that the people who decide what they say are coming at it from very narrow viewpoints. 

For more information, visit Kristina Michele Martens’ website.

Joel Johnson (no pronouns) is a Bellingham local and write-in candidate for the primary election.

Q: With high housing costs, what can you do to help students afford rent?  

A: We have to change the state law, and the mayor's office of Bellingham is very influential in the state of Washington, and we can apply pressure in organizing our legislators across the state to address the root causes of this issue through that legislative effort. It would be a top priority in my leadership. Apart from that, I do believe that we’ve got to let the market forces play into effect in stabilizing the market rates of the housing and right now development is stifled through our non-functional planning department, and so as a reformer, I am going to lead an effort to reform the planning department and implement really cutting-edge city zoning policy based off the model of what’s called code form zoning, so we streamline the zoning process for developers. 

Q: What are the top two issues facing residents right now and what would you address if elected?

A: I think that the housing crisis is a big one and then the public safety crisis…... wWe’ve got to address the infrastructure for people who are really struggling and suffering in homelessness and hopefully create pathways for the students who decide to graduate and stay here and, you know, build a life in Bellingham, and a pathway to affordable home ownership as well. Affordable housing across the whole spectrum is I think number one, it’s one of our basic needs. Number two, like I said, is public safety. I think that the families of the students who send their young adults to Bellingham to enter into this next chapter of their life are really entrusting us with their safety. I take that very seriously. So ensuring that, as we do grow, we start developing big city problems, that we are able to address those and create the safe environment that students, their families and the community deserves. 

Q: What is the take-home message of your campaign?

A: I think that the take-home message is just really asking students and Bellingham voters to join in this effort by writing in my name on the ballot, please. It will not be a wasted vote because so many people are taking the step to write my name in, we can really have a chance to get this bold action plan on the general ballot in November. 

For more information, visit Johnson’s website.

Kim Lund (she/her) has spent the last eight years as executive director of the Public Schools Foundation.

Q: With high housing costs, what can you do to help students afford rent? 

A: I think the mayor needs to be really vocal with their state legislators that we need a state-wide solution for rent controls because it's really hard for a city to insert themselves as a third party in a contract, and so there's a lot of legal concerns about doing it through the city, but if we had state-wide policy to support that framework I think that’s really important. We made a lot of progress on housing in the last legislative session and I think the rent control piece needs to be the focus of the next one. We need more support for renters.

Q: What are the top two issues facing residents right now and what would you address if elected?

A: Lack of housing affordability is huge and just supply across the entire continuum, and that’s emergency shelter too. We need more emergency shelter including safe RV lots, we need more supportive permanent housing as the next stepping stone, we need more affordable housing, we need workforce housing. So that is one, and then community health and safety I think is really something that we have to do and we have to continue to create supports and connect people to the supports that they need while also supporting our small business community. I think both of those things are important. 

Q: What is the take-home message of your campaign?

A: The stories we are telling one another right now don’t really reflect the Bellingham that we yearn for, and I hope that if I’m mayor in four years we’ll be telling very different stories about Bellingham and it'll be a story of city employees that are able to afford housing, that we will have done better by the renters in our community, that we’ll have taken pragmatic actions to build a more resilient community, that we’ll have a really vibrant downtown through intentional place making and activating the creatives in the community. How can we be bringing more people together, because I think isolation and disconnection is also a problem. I want to be a leader that can make Bellingham great. 

For more information, visit Lund’s website.

Mayor incumbent Seth Fleetwood (he/him)  is running for re-election in the City of Bellingham.

Q: With high housing costs, what can you do to help students afford rent? 

A: The first overarching observation is that we have to dramatically increase supply of housing. One thing that the city did in the process called the Growth Forums … the primary method for how to accommodate growth and increase supply of housing, we created the Samish Way Urban Village, which is adjacent to Western Washington University, and we’re seeing increased supply of housing on Samish Way, and that’s getting built out quite quickly, so we’re going to see a dramatic increase in supply of housing because of that intentional planning effort by the city, so that’s one method. The state required a whole series of things that are going to increase supply of housing in the city. House Bill 1110  passed in the last legislative session, which creates as a matter of right, people that own properties and lots of land in the City of Bellingham, the right to put additional units on it.There’s a wide range of things that we’re implementing; it’s going to require a comprehensive plan of attack. Urban villages and the implementation of the Samish Way Urban Village right now is increasing and will increase, even more so over time, housing supply. 

Q: What are the top two issues facing residents right now and what would you address if elected?

A: Home affordability, homelessness and housing affordability I think are two very prominent issues, I would sort of join them together, but I would say cost of housing and public safety is a prominent issue that we’re dealing with in the cCity of Bellingham. I’ll continue doing the work that I’ve been doing on public safety both in the fire services and the emergency services, also in police. The pandemic created an increase in a whole array of challenging social conditions … that we’re responding to. At the same time, we experienced staffing shortages, so we’ve had to engage in creative efforts in the area of public safety and identifying creative solutions for staffing back-up in the area of recruitment and retention, and we’ve been successful in that effort. We’ve increased budgeting authority for more personnel in our police department and more fire department personnel in the realm of public safety. We’re succeeding in that area. Fifty-six percent of people in Bellingham are renters, and because of supply and demand issues, with being such a popular place … the city is presently, actively involved in creating a whole range of renter protection ideas that are currently being vetted by our City Council that might have the effect of hopefully stabilizing the cost of rentals.

Q: What is the take-home message of your campaign?

A: I am a strong proponent of what I call progressive city building, which is the inspired work of building the future city that we need that addresses the reality that people are going to continue moving to the wonderful city called Bellingham, and how we accommodate what is going to be a continuously growing population and do so in ways that are sustainable and equitable and create an exciting vibrant social scene in our city is sort of everything to me, that’s what excites me about this work. 

For more information, visit Mayor Fleetwood’s website.


Grace Eaton

Grace Eaton (she/her) is finishing her third year at Western, majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism-public relations. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, playing lacrosse and reading. 

You can contact her at graceeaton.thefront@gmail.com.


Joshua Kornfeld

Joshua Kornfeld (he/him) is a city reporter for The Front this quarter. He is a junior majoring in journalism who enjoys photography, live music and exploring new coffee shops.
You can reach him at joshuakornfeld.thefront@gmail.com


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