In the first endorsements of his political career, Oak Harbor Mayor Bob Severns chose to support a newcomer over an incumbent council member whom he has served beside for nine years and even helped win a previous campaign.
In a letter to the editor of the News-Times, Severns endorsed Shane Hoffmire, who is challenging Councilmember Joel Servatius in the November general election. The mayor also endorsed Stefanie “Fe” Mischo, who is running against Dan Evans for an open seat currently held by Erica Wasinger. The letter can be read on page A4 of the newspaper and online.
In addition, Hoffmire earned an endorsement from Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson; she has represented Oak Harbor on the county board for nine years. She also helped Servatius in a previous campaign.
Servatius, on the other hand, pointed to “many top-caliber endorsements” listed on his campaign website, which include U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen and former Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik.
Both Severns and Johnson referenced concerns about the influence of developers on city politics in their reasons for not endorsing Servatius or Evans.
“The planning and development process in most Washington cities, including Oak Harbor, is a thoughtful and deliberate path that allows reasonable growth in measured amounts,” Severns wrote. “Most real estate developers and builders in our community understand the value of planning and strive to work within the system. A few, however, prefer to bend that system through politics. This coming election could result in more than a few, it could mean a majority, bending our system.”
He praised Hoffmire and Mischo for being “independent and knowledgeable,” claiming “they are not in league with the ‘outside special interests’” and will represent the city well. Severns ended his letter by writing that all views expressed were his own opinions and should not be construed as an official statement.
Severns confirmed that it was the first time he has publicly endorsed a political candidate, although he helped Servatius in his previous campaign with doorbelling and signs.
“It’s time for some new blood,” Severns said as an explanation for his endorsements.
“I’d like to see them represent a large selection of people,” he said of the city council.
He added that he was not referring to the city council as a whole in his critique, but simply the two candidates — Servatius and Evans. He would not answer specifically when asked which real estate developers he was referring to.
In a post on Facebook that she gave Hoffmire permission to share as campaign materials, Johnson wrote at length about her concerns with Servatius.
“There has been his continued allegiance to the Vegas developer,” she wrote, referring to developer Scott Thompson, “and his refusal to acknowledge any actual truths about our state’s Growth Management that is unsettling.”
Servatius had supported Thompson’s proposed Wright’s Crossing housing development in the county just south of city limits. After the project failed to progress through early steps of the development process, Thompson unsuccessfully sued the county. Also, he blamed the stalling on his housing development on the hill above Walmart on the city’s permitting process.
Servatius said he was not surprised that he didn’t get the mayor’s endorsement, but added that he was surprised that the mayor endorsed anybody. However, he said there was no tension between him and the mayor.
Servatius has served on city council since 2012. He has been part of numerous city groups during his tenure, such as the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, Park Board and Public Safety Task Force and was the mayor’s designee on developing more housing capacity, according to his campaign website. He is also a past president of the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce and former director of the Oak Harbor Main Street Association.
“While on Council, I have worked tirelessly on five priority areas that are important to our community: Public Safety, Housing, Infrastructure, Economic Development, and Technology,” he wrote in a statement.
The statement encouraged voters to visit his campaign website to learn more about his platform and view his endorsements.
“Joel provides solid, civic leadership to the people of Oak Harbor,” Larsen said in his endorsement. “He respects and listens to his constituents and has earned their support. I endorse Joel for his re-election.”
Hoffmire said it would be “inappropriate to speculate” which real estate developers Severns may have been referring to in his letter to the editor. He is running on a campaign slogan of “an affordable future.”
“The way that I chose who I’m running against is that I looked at how I can make a difference,” he said. “I’m running against a councilor with a decade-long incumbency. I feel like the results aren’t really there.”
Servatius said in his statement that he is running for re-election because he is committed to the city’s future and cares about the community.
Mischo, who also received the mayor’s endorsement, said she was “honored and humbled” to gain his support. She is on the Island County Community Health Advisory Board, Citizens Against Domestic & Sexual Abuse Board of Directors and the Island County Housing Advisory Board, among others, according to her campaign website.
Evans, on the other hand, questioned Severns’ credibility in a written statement. He claimed the mayor has broken promises to return the windmill to Windjammer Park, improve the housing crisis and protect the downtown shopping district. Evans works at Pacific North Group, a real estate investment, property management and construction company, which is owned by Thompson. He is also a former board president of the Oak Harbor Main Street Association.
“It is time that our untrusted politicians stop trying to choose our representatives and leave it up to the people,” Evans wrote.
Election day is Nov. 2.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated where Dan Evans works. He works at Pacific North Group, a real estate investment, property management and construction company, which is owned by real estate developer Scott Thompson. Evans sold his insurance firm earlier this year. We regret the error.