Maybe the race for Kent City Council between longtime incumbent Les Thomas and Hira Singh Bhullar will heat up as the Nov. 5 general election draws closer.
So far, the two are more friends than foes.
Even though the clash between Thomas and Bhullar for Position 3 could turn out to be the closest of any of the four council races, each agreed during a candidate forum on Sept. 5 at Kent Commons that they are running a clean campaign.
“He and I have run a very good, clean campaign,” Thomas said at the Kent Chamber of Commerce luncheon that featured the eight candidates for the four council seats up for grabs. “We enjoy each other’s company.”
“That’s true, we are running a clean campaign and we don’t complain about anybody,” Bhullar said. “We’ll let you pick who is the right person.”
Thomas, in his 16th year on council, hopes to win a fifth four-year term. Thomas barely defeated Bhullar in the August primary with 39.76 percent (5,991 votes) to 36.76 percent (5,833 votes). Sara Franklin had 25.13 percent (3,988 votes) but came up short of a top-two spot to advance.
“I’ve been blessed to serve this community for the last 16 years, and the diversity has changed a lot,” Thomas said. “I believe strongly the council members should reflect the community in which they serve. You look up here, you see a lot of diversity, but I’m the only senior up here.”
Bhullar responded to that comment a few moments later.
“Kent is different, so I want to bring you a different perspective,” Bhullar said. “We need different ideas on the council for what Kent is now compared to what Kent was 20 years back.”
Bhullar, a Starbucks software engineer, said he can do bring new ideas with his background in business, technology and serving on nonprofits.
Despite their friendship, Thomas delivered a zinger to Bhullar near the end of the forum.
“He’s a good man,” Thomas said. “He’s got a good family and a good job. But you are not looking for a good man, you’re looking for the best man and I am that candidate.”
Bhullar didn’t let that comment slide.
“I’d be honored to be your next council member,” Bhullar said. “So please pick out the right person, as Les said, not the good one.”
Three more races
The rest of the candidates kept things civil as well.
Incumbent Marli Larimer, the council appointed her last year to a vacant seat, faces Todd Minor for Position 1.
Larimer said she wants to go back to voters to raise tax revenue to hire more police officers.
“I prefer to see going to voters with an utility tax as we have before, it’s a more equitable tax,” Larimer said in response to being against a property tax levy to pay for more police. “What hurt us most is we were on the ballot with some other (tax) measures at the same time. When I talk to people they want more officers.”
Voters rejected in April 2018 by 57 to 43 percent a hike in city utility taxes to 8 percent from 6 percent to pay for more police. That would have brought in about $4.5 million a year to hire 23 more officers. The city levies a fee on electric, natural gas, cable and phone bills.
Minor agreed more police are needed.
“Safety is my core priority,” Minor said. “You take Central (Avenue) and you go up James and Smith and back to Covington, there are only three to four cops at one time patrolling that densely populated area. We fundamentally have to change that, we need more police.”
Minor wants more police emphasis on the homeless.
“I have a ton of empathy for folks falling on hard times,” Minor said. “But folks who fundamentally don’t want to change their behavior and they aggressively panhandle, there’s time for accountability and to invest in police and other services to place those who want to be placed but hold those accountable who make it uncomfortable for my kids to play in the park.”
Larimer said she works to increase affordable housing in her role representing residents on the King County Affordable Housing Committee, with conversations about where to spend money at the county and regional level.
“I am at the table fighting for Kent,” she said.
Awale A. Farah and Zandria Michaud are running for Position 7, the one open seat after Dennis Higgins decided against trying to win another term.
Farah said the city needs more better paying jobs to increase revenue.
“We need to advertise Kent as a place where any company can come and do business,” he said. “Most people who work at Boeing or other large companies live somewhere else. We need to ask them to give priority to those who live in Kent.”
Michaud plans to fill up vacant buildings in town.
“I would like to see incentives for businesses to occupy existing storefronts,” she said. “We have a lot of open, empty places in Kent and residents would really appreciate if there were businesses in those places so they are not attracting crime.”
Incumbent Bill Boyce, in an effort to win a third term, faces challenger Mizan Rahman.
Boyce pitched for more police officers.
“I’m not a big fan of raising taxes, most people see me as somewhat of a conservative,” Boyce said. “But I strongly support going out to voters for more police officers. A city our size should have 190 officers. Today, we are at 158.”
Rahman said the city needs to grow revenue by attracting more businesses, large and small.