News

Mayor won’t run

Just after 5 p.m. Friday, members of the Oak Harbor City Council received a big shock in an email message.

Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen will not seek re-election this year, possibly bringing an end to a career in city politics spanning more than a quarter century.

“I shall always consider the opportunity to represent our Oak Harbor community from this office as a privileged honor and a gift,” she wrote. “Despite some of the challenges that come along with being an elected official, this experience captured both my heart and my head from the beginning.”

In response, at least four candidates for mayor have popped up over the weekend. Councilmembers Jim Campbell, Sue Karahalios and Paul Brewer, as well as former city councilman Bob Morrison, are strongly considering running for the office.

That’s a big change from last week, when only Brewer was half-heartedly toying with the idea of running for mayor.

Cohen has long been considered a nearly unbeatable force in city politics, mainly because of her sheer popularity. Year after year, for example, she’s chosen as the best elected official in the Whidbey News-Times’ “Best of Whidbey” survey. She’s served five terms on the city council and this is her second term as mayor.

Also, Cohen has friendship on her side. Many potential candidates have said they won’t run against her because she is a friend.

Most of the council members expressed shock this week at the news, which spread around the city like wildfire.

“That kind of blew me away,” Brewer said of the news. “I was shocked.”

“You have no idea how floored I was,” Karahalios said.

Campbell said the mayor told him “point blank” she was running again and that an emcee at the Holland Happening parade even declared Cohen had announced her candidacy.

Yet Cohen left her colleagues on the council guessing as to the reason for the apparent change of heart. She told a News-Times reporter that she didn’t want to comment on the decision beyond her email statement, which offers no clues.

Some council members guess that Cohen simply wants her life back after giving so much to the community. Others point to a couple of recent controversies as a possible reason for her impending departure, though the general consensus is that she could win re-election if she wanted to.

“When you chose to leave political life, you do it at the top of your game,” Councilwoman Sheilah Crider said.

Whatever the reason, there will be a lot of disappointed people out there.

“Patty was an excellent mayor when we needed her,” Karahalios said. “She brought heart and soul back to the mayor’s office. She did a lot to restore faith in city hall.”

Karahalios earlier announced that she would be seeking re-election to her council seat this year, but now she has broadened her horizons. She’s already busy calling local movers and shakers, asking for their support if she runs for mayor.

“I put together an exploratory committee to help me finalize the decision to see if it’s viable,” she said. “And it’s looking pretty viable.”

Campbell also is seriously considering throwing his hat in the ring.

“Whether or not I run depends on what kind of support I get,” he said.

Although he’s a relative newcomer in city politics, Campbell is convinced that he would be a capable leader for the city.

“I think I could do a pretty good job,” he said. “When I heard the names of other candidates, I knew I could do as good a job as some and I could be a better job than others.”

Although Brewer was considering running even before Cohen bowed out, he wasn’t quick to say he will make a run for it. He said he received many calls over the weekend from folks urging him to run.

Still, Brewer said he just doesn’t know.

In addition, Bob Morrison is back. The former councilman, who ran for mayor against Cohen and lost, has been attending council meetings lately with the intention of running for council this fall.

But now that Cohen is out, it looks like Morrison may try his hand at a run for mayor again.

“It’s a real possibility and I’m very seriously thinking about it,” he said.

Morrison already has an issue that may gain him leverage over his competition.

“The same thing that irritates me, and the same thing that irritates everyone else, is we got $90 million worth of projects out there and we have no priorities,” he said. “Nothing moves forward.”

Councilman Larry Eaton earlier announced that he won’t be running for his council seat again this year, and he said he’s definitely not seeking to become mayor. Yet he points out that three council seats are up for reelection this year and it’s the council that sets city policies.

“I’m going to be disappointed if more people don’t run,” he said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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