Meet the Tacoma mayoral candidates


Photos courtesy of Victoria Woodards and Jim Merritt

Allison Fitz

Tonight Annie Wright Schools will host the Tacoma mayoral candidates, Jim Merritt and Victoria Woodards, for a student-led forum. The event will offer an intimate atmosphere to get to know the candidates and their views.

From their websites, it is clear that both candidates identify as Democratic leaders that will passionately work to serve Tacoma. It is less obvious, however, how their occupations, experiences and values will set them apart as mayor. And that is what I wanted to find out.

After a few coordinating emails, I found myself opening the doors to Merritt’s campaign office on Saturday morning and Woodards’s on Sunday evening. Although the candidates are busy, they are still accessible to the public, even to an eleventh grader like myself.

I was greeted by Merritt’s campaign manager Anna Heath, Merritt himself, and the smell of fresh donuts. A full day of doorbelling and campaigning awaited the team. Before the interview, we took a quick tour of the office. He described how the space required no extra costs – the downtown real estate was lent to him, the furniture was reused, and his IT friend set up the computers. He offered a bottle of water and we then sat down to talk.

Arriving at Woodards’s campaign office around 6:00 pm on Sunday offered a different insight: the end of a campaigning day. Woodards had spoken to four churches and had doorbelled all day, and the exhausting nature of a full day of campaigning was apparent.

First I asked the candidates how they differ from their opponent.  

Merritt jumped to his experience as an architect in both the private and public sectors. Through his job, he is able to interact with groups and facilitate solutions. He has designed city halls, police stations, fire stations and transportation systems and has worked with people who have varying perspectives to find a mutually agreeable solution.

Through his non-governmental experience, Merritt said he brings a new outlook to Tacoma, to break the cycle of “passing the baton” that he identified in the current government. As mayor, Merritt said he presents “years of experience in other areas to bring as transferrable skills.”

Woodards also gravitated to her experience to separate herself from her opponent. She served as deputy mayor in 2014 and was elected to a tenure on the city council in 2009. “Until you’ve been elected to serve, it’s really easy to talk about what you’ll do and how you’ll do it,” she said. “There are some things I can’t responsibly say because I know it’s not possible, or it’s difficult. But then there are some things I can say because I know what it takes to get the work done.”

She also evidenced her ability to collaborate by the diversity of those who have endorsed her. “I have both business and labor, environmentalists and developers, and people are seeing me as the person who can bring everybody together,” she said.

The candidates clearly have many plans for Tacoma. While these are valuable, they are meaningless without action. I next asked the two how they will deliver on their promises.

Merritt spoke of his devotion to gathering all information from the experts to reach a solution. He creates a step-by-step work plan with goals and target dates, and that is his process to success.

Then Merritt shared a vision for Tacoma. “We need to start changing the culture of Tacoma. That is how we communicate with citizens, how we open up dialogue at city council meetings.” His message seemed be consistent. In green marker, “Change the culture” was plainly written on an easel pad at the back of the office.

To symbolize this open relationship between Tacoma’s government and citizens, Merritt plans to ceremonially remove the hinges to the door of the mayor’s office during his first elected week. “We want to show this is open door. In fact, it’s no door,” Merritt said with a chuckle.

Woodards approached the question differently. She first shared the wisdom she has gained from serving. “It’s irresponsible of us as elected officials to promise things we can’t do,” she said.

She also knows that she can’t get anything done herself. “At the end of the day, it takes all of us to get the work done,” she said, explaining how she will build the kind of Tacoma that everyone can believe in and that everyone can work for, because that is the only way the work will get done. “I get to be the leader, the cheerleader, great. I get to bring everyone together, but the work itself has to be done by all of us,” she said.

For Woodards, this kind of Tacoma “will be a place for everyone who lives here…When we take care of those who need to be taken care of the most, then everyone gets taken care of.” As an example she mentioned that curb cutouts were built originally for the city to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The cutouts were imposed to primarily benefit those in wheelchairs, but they also benefit citizens with shopping carts, strollers and bicycles. “Being mayor is about having someone who wants to work with everyone who lives, works and invests here,” she said.

Both interviews lasted about an hour. In Merritt’s office, close to 11:00 am, volunteers arrived to either decorate the campaign office for election night or embark to doorbell around the city. By about 7:00 pm in Woodards’s office, she and her campaign manager, Trevor Hemenway, needed to debrief the day and plan the details of the next.

Although I spoke to the candidates as a reporter, I listened as both a journalist and a citizen of Tacoma. Merritt and Woodards also answered questions about policy and important city issues. 

The forum will be live-streamed on Instagram @anniewrightinkwell. Mayoral ballots are mailed on October 20 and the election is on November 7.

Tacoma elected Woodards for mayor. She answered questions on policy and important city issues – read about it here.

New year, new mayor