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Poulsbo's incumbent mayor Kathryn Quade hitting a bump on road to reelection?

POULSBO — As an ex-smoker, Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade took exception to a neighborhood flier accusing her of dealmaking with “good ‘ole boys (and girls)” in smoke-filled rooms.

“I do not sit in smoke-filled rooms,” Quade told the city’s Park Commission July 27. The flier urged neighbors to oppose a city-backed proposal to rezone two park properties, one that recently saw the installation of $40,000 of play equipment.

Within a week Quade backed off the proposition, postponing for at least a year the proposal to rezone the Betty Iverson Kiwanis Park and the undeveloped Klingel property, and calling what became a flashpoint an “opportunity” for discussion. The city council agreed with her, voting to abandon the proposal.

What may have been a smooth path to another four years in the mayor’s office has taken a bumpy spur recently. And despite her status as an incumbent, a healthy balance of campaign funds from prominent Poulsbo and Kitsap residents plus the ability to raise more, Quade enters the home stretch appearing shaken. She is critiqued by those who once supported her, the criticism keeps coming and it usually involves the $16 million City Hall , under construction.

A community member very publicly clarifies she has not given Quade her endorsement; a longtime Poulsbo community activist won’t endorse her and complains Quade has never provided a coherent explanation as to how the city hall site was chosen; a petition has popped up to halt construction of the City Hall and form an advisory committee.

Shortly after the city council meeting, in a private meeting, Quade asked Parks Commissioner Wayne Hill, one of the more prominent critics of the city’s plan, if she could use his image in campaign materials.

The request struck Hill as inappropriate.

“It was a little odd,” Hill said. “She seemed to feel she had adequately resolved all the differences and things like that.”

Hill refused to sign on to her campaign, he said, and later put his support behind Quade’s opponent, Councilwoman Becky Erickson .

“She seemed certainly disappointed,” Hill said of Quade.

Quade denied the discussion was related to her suggestion to the City Council. Calling it a “private conversation with a private citizen,” Quade said the meeting was to confirm a previous conversation with Hill where he indicated she could use his photo in campaign materials. If it is interpreted as a “backroom deal,” it is misinterpreted, Quade said.

“It had nothing to do with the suggestion to withdraw” the rezone applications, Quade said, explaining that it was coincidence their conversation followed Quade’s recommendation the rezone applications be pulled.

Despite the recent surge of vocal residents, Quade still enters the final stretch of the mayor’s race with multiple advantages. She has a healthy campaign account balance and hasn’t limited herself to raising more money, she has endorsements that haven’t jumped ship. Plus, in 2005, she trounced opponent Donna Jean Bruce, 1,911 to 903. And despite the criticism of the city’s handling of the city hall, Quade remains convinced the city needs a new building and has worked to ensure it is located downtown.

“Anyone who has sat through a summer evening in the current building knows how inadequate it is,” she said, referring to a recent commission meeting, where 60 residents packed into the small, sweltering council chambers.

Quade acknowledges that much of the angst directed toward her comes from the price tag and location of the City Hall.

“It doesn’t come without a cost,” she said, referring to the price leaders pay when making necessary yet unpopular decisions.

She also noted that the council has the ultimate say on such matters.

Only two candidates filed for the mayor’s race, so Quade and Erickson will bypass the primary election Aug. 18 and face off Nov. 3. The job of mayor paid about $65,000 in 2009, and came with a nearly $12,000 health care package and membership in the state public employees retirement system.

As of Aug. 10, Quade had $6,300 on hand, according to Public Disclosure Commission documents. So far this election season she has raised $11,500 and spent $5,200.

Erickson agreed to limit her campaign to $5,000, taking no more than $500 from a single donor. However, Erickson said she will be spending her own money and not accepting endorsements so that she does not appear to be beholden to anyone. She thinks she can win, even with the restrictions she has placed on her campaign.

Or else, “I wouldn’t be doing it,” she said.

Erickson said she’s noticed support swing her direction, but she doesn’t attribute the perceived shift to the park issue.

“I’ve see Kathryn operate as mayor as she’s operated for the past three-and-a-half years,” Erickson said, adding, “If it wasn’t the park, it would be something else.”

Money and endorsements do not necessarily equate to electoral victory, in fact, experts disagree on what money and endorsements mean in politics. Underfunded candidates win and voters often don’t care about endorsements.

Making it clear to all that she wasn’t support Quade, Poulsbo resident Ardis Morrow found her name erroneously among Quade’s list of endorsees. Morrow met with Quade, asked that her name be removed, then wrote a letter to the editor of the Herald saying she was endorsing Erickson.

Quade removed the endorsements from her Web site and left a message indicating Morrow was not the only erroneous endorsement, calling the errors “technical difficulties.”

And then there is the meeting between Quade and Hill, which Quade denied was a “meeting,” but a “five-minute conversation.”

The park proposals were two applications to rezone Kiwanis Park, also called Scandia Knolls Park, and the city-owned Klingel property. The Kiwanis park was intended as open space to offset the Scandia Knolls development, and the Klingel property, which is up for sale to help pay for City Hall, may not be suitable for development.

Hill called the park plan “ill-advised, ill-conceived and ill-presented,” then noted, “I am not a single-issue guy, but I think there might be some pattern there.”

In an email following an interview with the Herald on Wednesday, Quade emphasized that she would “never be involved with making a back-room deal” and said the decision to back off the rezone application came from meeting with concerned residents.

On Thursday, Quade and Hill made a conference call to the Herald to “clarify” what occurred. Hill said his support of the mayor, which he did not give, was not dependent on her stance on the park rezone proposals.

Quade reiterated the conversation with Hill was brought on by a deadline at the printers, making it necessary, at that time, to confirm Hill would support her.

Although the latest departures have caused waves, Quade still has a strong list of supporters, including small donations from elected officials throughout Kitsap, including County Commissioner Steve Bauer, former Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman, Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola and Poulsbo Councilwoman Kim Crowder, according to Public Disclosure Commission reports.

State Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, a friend and supporter of Quade’s, said it was unfair for people to aim all their angst about City Hall at Quade, considering the final decision was made by the council.

“People are putting their animus in the wrong place,” she said. “I know she’s a woman of integrity and she cares about this community and I think she is the best person for the job.”

Quade was also given an endorsement from the Kitsap County Democratic Party.

Poulsbo Councilman Ed Stern said he is supporting Quade to keep intact the same council and mayor that has worked well together for the past four years.

“In essence, I’m a supporter of the team, and the team is the mayor and the council, and the council includes Becky Erickson,” Stern said, singling out the location of Harrison Medical Center’s campus and the saving of the Poulsbo Marine Science Center as successes of the “team.”

But Bill Austin, partly credited with saving the science center, said he wouldn’t be giving his endorsement to Quade or Erickson. Austin, who remodeled several other local attractions, said Quade’s explanations over the location of City Hall has left him dissatisfied. He said thinking about the project still exasperates him.

“And I don’t think I’m the only one,” he said.

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