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Kent voters to decide whether they want new mayor
Kent mayoral challenger Tim Clark and incumbent Suzette Cooke picked up opposite reactions during their door-to-door visits to attract voters.
"One consistent at the door is that people think eight years is long enough," Clark said about Cooke's two-year term. "She's had her chance. How deep that is the actual vote count will indicate."
Cooke said she typically received good feedback.
"People see me and are positive," Cooke said. "Of course, they are not going to say to your face that you're not cutting it, well, a few say that. But in general they know me and are positive with my name recognition and visibility. It's not like I'm just running for office for the first time."
Results on election night Tuesday, Nov. 5 will determine if voters are ready to replace Cooke with Clark, who served 16 years on the Kent City Council before spending the last four years on the Kent School Board.
Ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 5 to be counted by King County Elections.
The other key Kent races include a City Council showdown among Ken Sharp, Bailey Stober and write-in candidate Debbie Raplee; a City Council clash between Jim Berrios and Wade Schwartz; and a Kent School Board race between Bruce Elliott and Maya Vengadasalam.
Sharp remained in the race despite first-degree theft charges filed by King County prosecutors for reportedly stealing nearly $300,000 from his 93-year-old mother's bank account. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and a trial date has yet to be set.
The mayor's race looms as the major race because it's a full-time position that pays $102,000 per year. Cooke defeated Berrios in 2009 to earn a second term with 68 percent of the vote. She beat Judy Woods in 2005 with 57 percent of the vote.
"This is the lowest key campaign I've had," Cooke said. "I kept waiting for Tim to hit me with something. He was trying to find things to pin on me. He ran into opposition. I never cut police. Crime has gone down. And with the budget we are now breaking out of the recession."
Clark, a retired high school social studies teacher, has pushed a theme at candidate forums that Cooke poorly manages the city budget.
"My claims of fiscal mismanagement at City Hall have been confirmed by other candidates running for City Council," Clark said.
Clark added that Council members also have been upset with Cooke for not informing them about financial decisions.
"She blamed the Council for the deficit and she's the administrator of the budget," Clark said.
A reduction in police support staff was another mistake by Cooke, the challenger said.
"Cutbacks in police support staff has been identified by Council but she does not address that because it implies she's not good at managing money," he said.
Cooke said she works with city department heads before making job cuts.
"I didn't make the cuts but work with city directors," Cooke said. "That came from the (police) chief. But yes, we do need more administrative support and we are working on creating a different administrative position."
Despite the name recognition of Clark as a former City Councilman and current School Board member, Cooke remains confident.
"I feel very good about the outcome of the election," she said.
Clark knows taking on an incumbent can be a challenge.
"It's going to be tight," Clark said about the outcome of the race. "The problem you have with an eight-year incumbent is whether people realize things are out of balance at City Hall."
The mayor said she has worked hard to make people comfortable with her and city government. She said she works with staff to resolve problems in neighborhoods, whether it's potholes, crime or some other issue.
"I've been involved in the community," Cooke said. "I don't just operate from City Hall. I go to where the people are."
Now the question looms whether those people will choose Clark or Cooke.
"I've been door belling since April and the reception at the door has been positive," Clark said. "Clearly it's a question of whether the grassroots effort has taken hold. Now it's in the hands of the voter."
Cooke said eight years as mayor isn't enough.
"It might be for some people but not for me," Cooke said. "I have a lot of energy left."