Published in the Everett Herald: Monday, October 22, 2007. Posted Oct. 25, 2007.

Growth key key in partisan County Council race

By Jeff Switzer
Herald Writer

Two former state legislators are locked in a partisan battle for an open seat on the Snohomish County Council, and the race is about to heat up.

About $66,000 worth of TV and radio ads will hit the airwaves soon, opposing Democratic candidate Mike Cooper just as voters get their ballots.

The building industry is bankrolling opposition to Cooper, who has won endorsements from environmental and labor groups.

Builders instead hope that voters will choose Republican Renee Radcliff Sinclair of Lynnwood.

"I think her expertise and understanding of things is a valuable asset for a County Council seat. That's why we're supporting her as a PAC and see the industry supporting her," said David Toyer, spokesman for the Quality Communities political action committee and a vice-president at Barclays North Inc., a Lake Stevens home builder.

The TV and radio ads will "see us pointing out some areas of contrast with Mr. Cooper," Toyer said, declining to elaborate.

Last week, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties gave $85,000 to the Quality Communities political action committee for the ads. The committee is chiefly made up of local home builders and land developers including Barclays North Inc. of Lake Stevens and Pacific Ridge Homes of Bothell.

"I've been expecting it all along," Cooper said, adding that he expects the campaign will consist of attack ads. "The Master Builders don't want me to be in office. They're nervous. They're concerned I'm the one supported by the environmental community."

Both candidates are former state representatives from the 21st Legislative district. They are chasing votes to succeed Republican Gary Nelson, who is finishing 12 years on the council. Term limits bar him from seeking re-election.

A victory by Cooper could extend the Democratic majority on the council to 4-1.

Two years ago, Democrats took control of the council majority when Republican Jeff Sax lost his re-election bid to Dave Somers. That year, the Quality Communities PAC gave heavily to Sax, at least $97,000 for mailings and radio ads in the two months leading up to the election.

Toyer said that election and this one aren't related.

Cooper already is drawing builders' ire. He said he's firm on who should pay the price of population growth.

"They'll run a negative campaign trying to paint me as raising the price of housing by putting onerous requirements on it," Cooper said. "I said just the opposite. If we roll back requirements, if doesn't save the county any money. I'm saying developers ought to pay their way."

It's no surprise that builders and environmentalists are pushing hard for their County Council candidates. The two sides often find themselves balkanized in county policy debates over traffic congestion, environmental regulations and rising housing prices.

"This race is really about growth," Radcliff Sinclair said. "Every issue the county is facing is about growth."

Local politics would be a change for both candidates. Cooper and Radcliff Sinclair served as lawmakers in the trenches in Olympia.

The pair first faced off in the 21st Legislative District in 1994, with Radcliff Sinclair beating Cooper in a year that Republicans won races all over the country. Two years later, Cooper became her seatmate in the state Legislature. Radcliff Sinclair quit the Legislature in 2000 for personal reasons, finishing three terms. Cooper quit in 2004 after four terms to run for state lands commissioner, but lost.

Fast forward to this election. Outside of the funding from the building industry PAC, both candidates are nearly matched in individual fund raising. Sinclair has raised about $82,500, with the largest donations from developers; Cooper has received $81,000, mostly from labor.

It's a classic match-up, developers versus environmentalists, Cooper said.

Even so, Cooper admits he has his share of backing from builders, but says he has broader support than his opponent. At the same time, Radcliff Sinclair said she has credibility with green voters because of her time on the board of the Cascade Land Conservancy, a group that works to protect wilderness lands.

"I'm disappointed the environmental community and labor chose to make endorsements without talking to me," she said.

Cooper is a retired Shoreline firefighter and union negotiator. That experience made him good at forging compromises, a strength he said is needed on the County Council.

Cooper said developers have had their run of the County Council for too long.

"I think it's been difficult to not give in to the developers," Cooper said. "We've grown in a way that some voters say is out of control, so fast there doesn't appear to be any controls. I think we can do a better job managing our growth."

Radcliff Sinclair said growth can be better managed through persuasion.

"We could encourage developers through an incentive system to build green instead of fining them," she said.

Road upgrades are needed to handle traffic, she said. If voters reject Proposition 1, the $17.8 billion roads and transit measure, she said the county might have to try again at the ballot box to pay for road upgrades.

Cooper said one way to fix traffic is to have workers live closer to their jobs.

If elected, Cooper also said he would push to have roads and sidewalks upgraded when a development is built, without the typical six-year lag allowed by state law. That might mean making the county work harder to build those projects on credit.

Radcliff Sinclair is a former Everett business leader who is a public relations director for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She said she has worked to promote economic development and job growth for the state and county.

In January, she was appointed to the county planning commission, a policy advisory board.

"It helped me to have a broad understanding of what our county is facing," she said. "That's why I'm ready for this job."

Snohomish County Council District 3

The district includes Lynnwood, Edmonds and Woodway in the southwestern corner of the county. The County Council sets policy for the county's unincorporated areas and approves budgets. The job will pay about $97,000 next year.

MIKE COOPER

Age: 55

Party: Democrat

Occupation: Retired firefighter, former state legislator

Hometown: Edmonds

Web site: www.mikecooper.org

Money: $81,000 raised, $65,000 spent (as of Oct. 15)

RENEE RADCLIFF SINCLAIR

Age: 48

Party: Republican

Occupation: public relations director for the United States Chamber of Commerce, former state legislator

Hometown: Lynnwood

Web site: www.electrenee.com

Money: $82,500 raised, $71,650 spent (As of Oct. 14)