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Peoples runs for commissioner

Oak Harbor resident and retired Navy Chief Lionel Peoples has announced he will seek the district two county commissioner seat held by Mac McDowell in November’s election.

He is the first contender this election year to challenge McDowell, who has held the position for 12 years.

It will be Peoples’ second bid for the seat, having run against McDowell in 1996.

Peoples said he garnered 42 percent of the votes in that election, even though he didn’t put out a single campaign sign, and spent only $2,000.

This time around, he is mobilizing what could be called the silent majority in Oak Harbor — young people who haven’t been voting.

“We’re all in the same boat,” Peoples said. “We need to get out there and do something. Young people need to take on responsibility and learn to vote.”

A Democrat, Peoples feels there are enough differences between McDowell and himself to give him an advantage.

“I’m friendlier,” Peoples quipped before getting down to business. “And I’ve been in the clinches in labor.”

After retiring at Whidbey Naval Air Station as a chief petty officer, Peoples continued his career in aviation engineering, mostly at Boeing.

Peoples feels his working man’s view of the world will play well in Oak Harbor and on Whidbey Island.

“Economic development is the buzz word,” he said, “but it looks like jobs and hardware — they forget the humanistic side.”

Peoples said there are people on Whidbey Island living in the streets and in the woods, unable to find work to support themselves and their families.

Peoples also wants to look beyond the fears of possible closure of the naval base, and explore alternative commercial ventures.

“I believe in being ahead of the curve,” he said.

He would like to see the county and local governments consider alternative uses for the base that would increase the county’s tax base and provide jobs, and develop a commercial corridor along Ault Field Road.

Another tool in Peoples’ economic development strategy is the formation of a Port of Whidbey, encompassing the entire island.

“Right now we’ve got two botched up Ports,” he said, referring to Coupeville and South Whidbey. “We don’t need a third.”

A single Port would be able to serve as a focal point for economic development, he said. For example, it could have a designated area in which to store, assemble and ship goods from overseas, which could be trucked in from ports such as Seattle.

He would also like to see “clean” businesses on Whidbey, such as a private college.

Water on Whidbey is a big issue that Peoples doesn’t feel has been adequately addressed, especially with the increasing population pressure. He would like to see a pipeline, like the one that serves the city of Oak Harbor, serve the entire island. It could be tied into existing wells which would act as holding tanks, he said.

Peoples concedes greater access to water might increase development, but said that’s an unavoidable fact anyway.

“Development is coming,” he said. “We need to prepare for it. We have the opportunity to do the right thing now.”

While Peoples said he would advocate for creating alternatives to NAS Whidbey as the main employer on the island, he’s not an advocate of base closure.

“I will fight it to the end,” he said. “I will keep the focus on keeping the base here, but if it closes we need to have a strategy ready.”

Taking a line from King County Executive Ron Sims, Peoples said he would “run first.”

“You need to run ahead of the problem.”

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