What makes Al run (again and again)?

Perennial candidate Alvin Rutledge keeps them honest
By Brian Soergel | Jan 11, 2018
Photo by: Brian Soergel Al Rutledge, 77, pictured at his Lake Ballinger home, says he will run, once again, for a City Council seat next year.

Some people have questioned – or may question now – the newsworthiness of a profile on frequent Edmonds political candidate Alvin Rutledge.

After all, he's never won. He’s that old guy who mumbles. Who can ramble. Whose conservative views – though he says he’s an independent – might not necessarily jibe with those of Edmonds’ glitterati, those established and those recently arrived and commuting to-and-from South Lake Union.

But here’s why.

“Nobody should run unopposed,” Rutledge said from McDonald’s on Edmonds Way. I had suggested someplace downtown, but McDonald’s seemed about right for a talk with the 77-year-old. I ordered a sausage muffin and coffee.

Rutledge passed on the menu, but instead dropped an armful of correspondence between himself and various politicos on our table with a thump.

He saves everything. He has to, as he has no use for a computer. He sends press releases via fax. A politician without an email or webpage? That’s Al Rutledge.

A Seattle native who graduated from Bishop Blanchet High School and attended Everett Community College for a year, he worked for his parents’ trucking company before buying it in 1971 and later selling it, moving to Edmonds in 1986, where he has a home along State Route 104 along Lake Ballinger. He is not married and has no children.

The home is at the far southeastern limit of the city.

“He once told me that he hates it when people run unopposed in city elections,” Councilmember Tom Mesaros said. “Since I ran unopposed in 2015, I thought he might file against me on the last day of filings. Fortunately, he did not – he filed against (current Councilmember) Mike Nelson that year. I just think he likes to give voters alternatives.”

And it’s alternatives that Edmonds citizens don’t seem to have much of these days. Mayor Dave Earling ran unopposed in the November general election to earn his second term, and no one ran against Nelson, the current council president.

Nelson was appointed to fill the Position 2 seat vacated by Strom Peterson, who won a seat in the state Legislature. Nelson then retained his seat in November 2015, defeating Rutledge.

Plenty of people throw their names in the hat when a council seat becomes vacant after an incumbent leaves for whatever reason – 10 residents, including Nelson, applied for Peterson’s former seat.

The winner in that case is selected by councilmembers in what can often be a drawn-out process.

But when it comes to officially filing to run for a position up for election – one that includes a filing fee – crickets. That’s why Rutledge runs. Next year, four positions on the Edmonds City Council will be open, those now held by Mesaros, Diane Buckshnis, Dave Teitzel and Neil Tibbott.

“People say they are going to run for election,” Rutledge said. “But when it comes to file, they run off. They’re all good people I run against. I just run against people no else wants to.”

Plus, he said, incumbents are generally hard to beat unless they’ve become embroiled in controversy – think former Mayor Mike Cooper and City Councilmember D.J. Wilson, both involved in personnel disputes with city workers.

Indeed, just in the city of Edmonds, Rutledge has lost City Council races to Earling, Peterson, Buckshnis, Nelson, Gary Haakenson, Deanna Dawson, Mauri Moore, Frank Yamamoto, and Gary Nelson.

Rutledge hasn’t limited his ambitions to Edmonds. In 2016, he picked up 24 percent of the vote in a 32nd Legislative District election, losing to longtime incumbent Cindy Ryu.

Even though Rutledge said he will once again run for one of the four council seats next year, he appears to be slowing down, though he won’t admit it.

He used in-kind donations for his $69 filing fee last year and spent less than $100 on his campaign. He said he usually knocks on between 3,000 and 4,000 doors to speak with voters, but last year didn’t knock on a single one. The campaign signs he used were paid for by one of his supporters four years ago.

“I figured I spent 3 cents per voter from my money,” he said. “My opponent spent $1.10, and she raised more than $10,000.”

These days, it’s rare to spot Rutledge at weekly council meetings. Shortly after moving to Edmonds, Rutledge said he attended 90 percent of them for the next 20 years, frequently speaking at the podium during public comment.

That’s a true gadfly.

So even though he may have lost some zest, he still manages to volunteer at the Log Cabin Visitors’ Center and for the Carol Rowe Memorial Food Bank at Edmonds United Methodist Church. He also organizes a small classic car show annually.

But don’t think Rutledge wouldn’t serve if elected. Not too many citizens know more about how Edmonds runs and what issues are most important.

And there are plenty of locals who continue to support him. In the most recent election, incumbent Adrienne Fraley-Monillas tallied 74 percent of the vote to defeat Rutledge. But still, 26 percent.

During the interview, Rutledge repeatedly praises those he runs against.

“I’m just running against the wrong people. No one runs against them, and they’re good people. People don’t run against them because they can’t be beat.”

Those good vibes tend to be reciprocated by (most of) his opponents, who say they admire his tenacity.

“I suppose what I would say about Al is that I appreciate all the energy that he puts into civic issues,” Fraley-Monillas said. “He tries to stay informed about city work, as well as other cities and what they are doing. I appreciate the fact he’s been a long-term food bank volunteer and assists with the Edmonds car show when able. His energy is boundless, and I can appreciate the fact that he wants people to not run unopposed.”

Which is why Rutledge took on incumbent Nelson in 2015, criticizing his union ties as possibly swaying his votes.

Said Nelson: “Campaigning gives him a unique opportunity to express his views and highlight issues that are not getting the public attention he believes they should. Don't underestimate that nice smile of his; he can be tough, too. I remember during one joint editorial board interview where he went after me pretty good, and I had to vigorously defend myself.”

Nelson said he enjoyed running against Rutledge.

“I always appreciate hearing from him and learning about the good work he does in our community.”

Councilmember Teitzel said he’s known Rutledge for several years and admires his spirit of service.

“Al can often be found, in all kinds of weather, collecting food donations for the less fortunate in our community and volunteering in other ways. He truly cares about Edmonds, serves generously and never seeks thanks for his efforts. I appreciate Al's compassion, and even though this isn't feedback he would solicit, I'd like to thank him.”

Mesaros also praised Rutledge’s volunteer work.

“I have seen him many times in front of the Edmonds IGA, and now ACE Hardware, collecting food for the local food bank. Though my wife and I give regularly to the food bank, I always stop in and buy more food at that moment to support Al’s volunteer work. He cares about Edmonds and the people who call Edmonds home. Is Al getting old? Yes. Does Al often lose track of the conversation? Yes. But he has a good heart, and takes action to help others.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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