Mike Nelson wants to be next mayor of Edmonds

Union supporter clashed with Mayor Earling on several issues
By Brian Soergel | Jan 24, 2019
Courtesy of: Mike Nelson Mike Nelson

When Edmonds City Councilmember Mike Nelson ran to maintain his seat in 2015, Mayor Dave Earling was among those endorsing him.

Now, Nelson and Earling may be facing off in an election to see who will lead Edmonds in 2020.

Nelson announced on Jan. 17 that he wants to be the city’s new mayor. Two-term Mayor Earling is up for re-election this year, but has not yet responded to numerous requests from the Beacon on whether he will run or not, or is undecided.

Not that he has to announce – the official filing period for the Aug. 6 primary is the week of May 13.

But Nelson is getting the word out early.

“I am running for mayor to improve our quality of life in Edmonds,” Nelson said in announcing his candidacy in a news release. “We are seeing Edmonds families struggle to keep up with increasing taxes and rising costs in housing, health care, child care and transportation.

"We need to balance the needs of our citizens while making sure that our charming community does not lose its way to crime, traffic and overdevelopment. We are at a crossroads, and I believe the best path forward is to focus on creating a livable city, not a big city.”

While the office of mayor in Edmonds is nonpartisan, Earling is a Republican and Nelson a Democrat with strong union ties and forceful opinions on what he sees are Earling and the City’s overspending.

Last month, in a public squabble in the form of letters to the editor in the Beacon, Nelson accused Earling of increasing the 2019 budget by $16 million over 2018 and opposing nearly every spending cut submitted by city councilmembers, while arguing against 90 percent of the cuts proposed.

In addition, Nelson wrote, the mayor submitted a request to give his highest paid staff pay raises up to $13,000 per year.

Earling responded that Nelson was incorrect in his facts – the budget bump was $8.8 million – and was misleading the public, as councilmembers approved requests that made it into the final 2019 budget.

One item that remained on the budget was the $72,000 annual salary for federal lobbyist Tim Lovain.

Nelson has requested the lobbyist be dropped for the past two years, but Earling – who maintains that Lovain is critical in securing funds for infrastructure projects – managed to retain the lobbyist both times through closed-door deals, even though the council both times agreed with Nelson.

During a 2017 council meeting, Earling said that “ … you’re leading us down a blind alley unless we have a federal lobbyist to help us sustain interest in this project,” referencing the Edmonds Street Waterfront Connector.

Nelson’s riposte: “I think you’re selling yourself short, Mr. Mayor. I think you have all the skills and talents to meet with our elected representatives, as you have done in the past in funding for many other federal projects. And I’m sure you can do the same moving forward working with our federal representatives in achieving the funding needed.”

Earling’s response to Nelson, who at the time was council president:

“Well, thank you very much. As council president, you’ll be able to come with me and convince the legislators of that, and I’m serious about that because I see us going down a blind alley and, frankly, in good faith couldn’t talk to our Legislature in positive terms about the project.”

Union ties

It’s no secret that Nelson is an avid supporter of unions – he is the executive director of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Leadership Council 14. He coordinates joint legislative and political work of SEIUs in the state, representing over 100,000 employees.

“This includes workers who clean our buildings,” Nelson said, “take care of our children, care for our parents that are unable to care for themselves, the school bus drivers that take our kids to school, the instructors who teach our disabled children, and the hospital nurses who treat our loved ones.”

His duties include directing the planning and execution of statewide legislative and political campaigns and projects, overseeing development of an annual budget, providing staff support to the executive board, developing coalitions and joint work with political partners, and serving as state council representative to coalitions.

SEUI received negative press in July 2017 when the state attorney general’s office filed charges against the union after it received a citizen action notice from the Freedom Foundation alleging multiple violations of the state’s public disclosure laws in April 2017.

The charge, which did not name Nelson, alleged that Council 14 failed to register and report as a political committee to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission.

In addition, the charge claimed SEIU failed to identify a treasurer for the political committee, and failed to identify a depository for funds collected by the political committee. All are required by law.

The suit continued that Council 14 operated as a political committee in 2014 and 2016 – both election years – and failed to report at least $4 million in receipts and nearly $4.7 million in expenditures.

“This suit was initiated by a complaint from the Freedom Foundation, an extremist organization whose sole purpose is to destroy labor unions and worker protections,” Nelson told the Beacon then.

“While my employer did not register with the PDC as a political committee, it nonetheless reported to the PDC all of its political-related expenditures. My employer intends to cooperate fully with the attorney general in addressing these allegations of technical violations.”

The case is pending and there have been no hearings, the attorney general’s office told the Beacon this week.

Nelson showed his support for unions during a public display in December 2016, when Edmonds City Council members voted 6-1 to amend its contract with Snohomish County Fire District 1 (now South County Fire and Rescue), which provides the city’s fire and emergency services.

Earling had recommended the proposal to reduce the number of FD1 personnel serving Edmonds, which he said would save $1.3 million a year and make its fire and emergency medical service more efficient.

Nelson was the lone “no” vote. And then, with many firefighters in council chambers when the council reached its decision, Nelson abruptly stood up and left the meeting.

Recent action

Earlier this month, Nelson joined Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas in voting to videotape council committee meetings, in a move they said would enhance transparency for citizens. The proposal was defeated by Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis, Tom Mesaros and Dave Teitizel, who argued that audio recordings were sufficient.

And, late last year, when councilmembers voted not to increase property taxes, Nelson suggested they consider actually lowering property tax rates by 1 percent.

In addition, last July, the Edmonds City Council overwhelmingly approved Nelson’s ordinance governing the safe storage of firearms, which does not go into effect until March 21.

It will require gun owners to lock up their guns when they aren’t in use. Failure to do so could result in a fine between $500 and $1,000. In addition, should a prohibited or at-risk person or minor obtain an unsecured firearm and use it to commit a crime, the gun owner could be fined up to $10,000.

Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris is expected to announce a decision soon whether to proceed with the litigation, as the ordianance is being challenged by several organizations.

On the environment, Nelson calls himself a leader in protecting the climate. He led the effort to make Edmonds the first city in Washington to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy, and updated the City's climate action plan with what he calls measurable goals to reduce unhealthy emissions.

Background, statement

Nelson, 43, was appointed in March 2015 to Edmonds City Council after Strom Peterson won a seat in Olympia serving the 21st Legislative District. Nelson maintained his seat in November of that year, handily defeating perennial candidate Alvin Rutledge.

He ran unopposed in 2017. If elected mayor, City Council members would have to name a replacement for the remainder of Nelson’s Position 2 term, which expires Dec. 31, 2021.

As a councilmember, Nelson earns $15,000 a year, which is why many councilmembers in Edmonds and elsewhere are retired or have day jobs.

The 75-year-old Earling, as mayor, draws an annual salary of $121,912. Edmonds has a so-called “strong mayor” form of government, where the mayor is considered the city’s CEO and makes executive decisions.

The seven members of the council are the City’s legislative branch, with the mayor breaking a tie vote if necessary.

All are elected by citizens. Cities with a “weak mayor” system has elected councilmembers who, on their own, hire a city manager to oversee executive functions.

Nelson said he’s running for mayor to give citizens of Edmonds a voice in the future of the city. “I want to have an nfluence on where infrastructure investments are most urgent so our children and seniors are able to walk safely in our neighborhoods,” he said.

"To have a say on public safety priorities so our community feels secure in their homes and on our roadways. To have a voice on how we can best protect our natural environment to ensure our community is healthy. To have a say on how we can support our local businesses that serve a vital role in the strength of our economy.”

Nelson earned his bachelor's degree from George Washington University and a law degree from Gonzaga University.

He and his wife, Erica, live in Edmonds with their two young boys.



Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.