Candidates ponder elections

With important projects and issues on the horizon, elected officials on North and Central Whidbey will be making some important decisions in the next months.

There’s a giant waterfront development plan that needs to be implemenated, schools that need to be built or remodeled and water issues that need to be resolved.

While the general election is nearly six months away, candidates are already beginning to consider throwing their hats — or keeping their hats — in the ring so that they can help shape the future of the area.

Oak Harbor resident James Campbell, a retired Navy chief petty officer and retired project manager from Lockheed Martin, announced last week that he’s going to run for Councilman Richard Davis’ seat. Davis has said he doesn’t plan to run again.

Campbell said he wants to help the city live up to its potential.

“We don’t need to be like other cities around the country,” he said, “that have watched their economic situation deteriorate as their infrastructure falls behind needs and the resources to fix these problems dwindle. I believe Oak Harbor has the knowledge and human resources to become a leader in resolving these issues. What we need is a city council willing to lead us in the right direction. I think my background will enable me to be at the forefront of that leadership.”

Rex Hankins, Jr., the son of the late city councilman, also said he’s considering running for a seat on the council. He said the council needs “a common sense voice.”

In all, there are 12 important seats up for election this year on North and Central Whidbey: Four Oak Harbor City Council positions, two Coupeville Town Council positions, two Oak Harbor School Board positions, three Coupeville School Board positions and a seat on the Coupeville Port District.

Beyond Davis, Port Commissioner Ed Van Patten is the only person in an elected position who has said he won’t run again. He said he’s trying to convince a couple of different people to take on his position.

Coupeville Town Councilman Joe Keeva said he hasn’t decided yet whether he wants to run again.

In Oak Harbor, tourism consultant Roger Brooks’ new $32 million plan to redevelop the downtown and waterfront may attract candidates to the city council — both people who want to be a part of it and those who see problems with it.

Campbell said he believes it’s a good concept and workable plan, but he doesn’t completely agree with the sequencing of priorities. Also, he didn’t like the process in which the plan was created.

“During Brooks’ presentations,” he said, “I found myself wanting to stand up and say, ‘I’m with the city council and there are some real hard questions I want to have answered.’”

Anyone who went to those presentations or any of the other council meetings may have noticed Campbell patiently sitting in the audience. He said a council member approached him more than a year ago and asked him to consider running for Davis’ seat.

Last November, the council members bugged him again, so he decided to start going to meetings.

“The longer I went to meetings,” he said, “the more enthused I got about going.”

Campbell said one of the most important issues to him is planning for the growth of the city, which encompasses such considerations as infrastructure improvements and traffic. And he’s also concerned about education, though the city council doesn’t have much direct effect on schools.

Though he’s never run for public office, Campbell said his work in the Navy, in business and in the community make him the right man for the job.

Campbell retired from the Navy as chief petty officer. Afterward, he went to work for Lockheed Martin Missile Systems.

He was hired as an engineer, but also worked as a project manager on a multi-million dollar project at the Bangor submarine base; acted as a liaison in Washington, D.C. to the U.S. Navy for the Trident Missile Program; and was as senior manager and liaison to the Royal Navy in Helensburgh, Scotland.

After his second retirement, Campbell and his wife, Bethany, moved to Oak Harbor in 2000. They had five children between them, including a son who died in 1997.

On Whidbey, Campbell divides his time between the golf course and community activities. He’s on the board of the United Way, is a member of the Navy League and attends Family Bible Church.

He’s also been active in politics. He was the campaign manager for the Republican Island County Commissioner Bill Byrd and worked on the campaign for state Rep. Barbara Bailey, a Republican from Oak Harbor.

An affable man and adept small talker, Campbell also said he has the right demeanor for politics.

“I have an open mind,” he said. “It’s easy for me to talk to people and I’m willing to listen.”

You can reach Jessie Stensland at or 675-6611.

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