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Election 2007: Slowik, Brewer, keep running

The two men competing to become mayor of Oak Harbor both predict a close race and say they will be working hard to earn votes up to the day of the election.

For city voters, it’s probably the most important election contest, as well as being the most competitive, in years. Mail voting has been underway since last week, and the last day to postmark a ballot is Nov. 6.

Paul Brewer and Jim Slowik have very different personalities and styles — and distinct pockets of support — though they have similar ideas on some issues. In fact, they both claim to be the true “candidate for change” and argue that the other candidate co-opted many of their issues.

As Slowik sees it, the main distinction between he and Brewer is how they work with others. Although Slowik admits Brewer, a 12-year member of the City Council, played an important role as perennial critic and naysayer, he argued Brewer rarely offered alternative ideas and doesn’t have the leaderships skills necessary for wielding the gavel.

“The big difference is I am a team player,” Slowik said. “I work toward building a consensus, I look at the results as the ultimate goal and I try to come up with a solution.”

Although Slowik — a former school board member — is the newcomer to city politics, Brewer has effectively been able to brand himself as an outsider who represents the voice of the average person.

“There’s going to be drastic changes if I’m elected,” Brewer said. “City government is going to be more open to the public. I know what I believe and I will speak what I believe. I will treat everyone the same and not give special consideration to some over others.”

Pointing out that Mayor Patty Cohen endorsed his rival, Brewer argues that a Slowik administration “would just be the status quo” and not the change he believes the voters want. Brewer blames many of the city’s problems — from poor communication to ill-maintained infrastructure — on the mayor.

In response, Slowik pointed out that he’s not working directly with Cohen. While he agrees that the voters want a change, he said they are more focused on the City Council and city government in general. He has only kind words about Cohen.

“She’s been a terrific mayor,” he said. “It’s hard to find anybody who’s done a better job than Mayor Cohen.”

Both candidates have knocked on a lot of doors and talked to many residents about the issues over the last few months. Yet they have somewhat different ideas about what issues are most important to the voters.

Brewer said the three big concerns he’s heard are controlling growth, taking care of infrastructure, and most important of all, open government.

“We haven’t had open government and that probably won’t change if I’m not elected,” Brewer said. He pointed out that Slowik hasn’t been as strong a proponent as he has of videotaping and televising city workshops.

Slowik said the issues that concerned voters seemed to change throughout the election season, though the wish for change in city government has been a constant.

Early on, he said the issue of consultants was a major point of contention. Both he and Brewer agree that the city has thrown way too much money at consultants, though Brewer is in the position of having voted in favor of hiring the majority of the consultants. Brewer blames the mayor and staff for asking for the consultants in the first place.

Next, Slowik said “gridlock” in city government became a big issue. He said people don’t like the in-fighting and lack of progress that occurs on the council, but it also extends into some city departments. He pointed out that members of the police association have worked for nearly two years without a contract.

Lately, Slowik said the city’s perceived communication problems have been the biggest concerns among voters, especially in the wake of the Dillard’s Addition sewer controversy. The dispute began after the city allowed a developer to build a sewer system in the neighborhood without first notifying residents who would be forced, under city code, to hook into the system and pay for it. It ended up costing sewer ratepayers at least $124,000 to buy the system.

Again, Brewer — and many of Dillard residents themselves — have blamed the communication problems on Cohen and city staff.

Slowik said he tried to get the other candidates and voters excited about some other ideas — like a local economic summit and a five-year plan for city government — but the proposals never caught on. Nevertheless, he said they’re ideas he hopes to explore if he becomes mayor.

Other big difference between the two candidates are money and endorsements. Slowik has raised far more money than any other previous mayoral candidate from a long list of well-connected community members. Slowik will likely outspend Brewer more than five-to-one.

According to the Public Disclosure Web site, Slowik has raised nearly $26,000 so far. Several of his top contributors represent developer and real estate interests, including Bill Massey, P & L General Contractors, Skagit Island Buildings PAC, the Washington Association of Realtors, Landed Gentry Development Inc. and Ron Wallin.

But in addition, Slowik received smaller donations from a long list of folks, including Mayor Cohen, Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce Director Jill Johnson, Oak Harbor Schools Superintendent Rick Schulte, Island County Sheriff Mark Brown, former State Rep. Barry Sehlin, former State Rep. Barney Beeksma and city council candidate Beth Munns.

Brewer originally had hoped to run a grassroots campaign without contributions in order to retain his status as the completely independent candidate. But he decided to start accepting money just in the last few weeks because of the sheer expense of getting his message out. Also, he said he’s had a huge problem with people destroying his yard signs.

So far, Brewer has raised about $5,000. He said the money mainly came from average folks with concerns about the elitism of city government. Those who contributed to his campaign include Councilman Danny Paggao, environmental advocates Angie and Jerry Homola, retired dentist Fred Henninger, businessman Joe Franssen and residents JoAnn Hellman, Bert Letrondo, Lionel Peoples, and Peter and Patricia Rivera.

But even with the differences in campaign coffers, neither candidate feels the race will be won on money alone. Brewer admits that a victory for him would be an upset, considering that he trailed Slowik in the primary vote, but he says it’s a real possibility because of the dissatisfaction of so many average folks.

Slowik agrees that the election won’t be a slam-dunk, even though he has worked hard and run a very professional campaign with help from dedicate committee members.

“I feel like it’s been a tough race,” he said. “Mr. Brewer has been a worthy opponent and is a good candidate. I don’t take him lightly at all.”

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