WENATCHEE — Giving Latinos a better chance of election to the City Council was the intent of a recent switch to voting districts, but the decision will change the council’s makeup in more ways than one.
The council decided in August that five members would be elected from the districts they live in and two would be elected citywide. Previously, all seven served at-large.
Now, Mike Poirier is losing his spot on the council. He lives in District 2 along with two other members, but having one of the shortest unexpired terms, he was assigned to the vacant District 4.
District 2 is not up for election until 2021, so Poirier’s only option this year was to run for the at-large District A. Two other council members are running at-large this year, so Poirier decided to be mayor pro tem instead.
“I thought it was a fair way to do it,” he said.
The council’s August decision followed a 2015 federal court ruling that all seven Yakima City Council members be elected by voters from their respective districts instead of citywide. The idea was to give Latinos a better chance of winning, as Yakima voters had never elected a Latino council member.
Two Latinos have served on the Wenatchee City Council, including current Councilwoman Ruth Esparza.
Poirier said he voted for districts to protect Wenatchee from a future lawsuit, but he preferred the old system. He said he’s concerned the offices will get fewer candidates and those elected will focus on their own districts instead of the city as a whole.
“If it’s not now, I believe eventually that’s what it’s going to turn into,” he said. “It’s going to end up being fend for yourself.”
Two candidates filed to run for District 4 this fall: Melanie Wachholder and Travis Hornby. The primary is Aug. 6, and the general election is Nov. 5.
Wachholder signed up May 17, the last day of filing, because no one else had at that point. This is her first time running for public office.
“I had the thought of, ‘Why not me?’” she said. “It’s something I always saw myself doing in the future. I’m in my early 30s and I have a baby, so I thought it would be more of a distant future, but I thought, ‘Why not now?’”
Wachholder is curator of collections for the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center.
She said district-based voting ensures each part of the city has someone representing it.
“(Wenatchee) already is a nice place to raise a family, and I just want to keep encouraging it to improve in that direction,” she said. “I love to walk. We live in an area in our district that I, fortunately, can walk pretty much anywhere that I need to get to, and I would love to see a safer place for people to be pedestrians.”
Hornby joined the race later in the day.
“I think there’s roughly 800 voting residents in that district, so it’s going to be a tight race,” he said. “Every vote counts.”
Hornby owns Blue Palm Frozen Yogurt in Moses Lake and is involved with the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance and Wenatchee Valley TREAD. He also sits on the Stemilt Partnership recreation committee.
After an unsuccessful bid for Chelan County commissioner in 2016, Hornby said he wants to make life easier for small-business owners in Wenatchee.
“Besides the fact that I love the city, I think it’s important that in the 4th District we have a business-minded representative,” he said. “I’m a small-business owner, and I think that can bring a good voice to the growth that Wenatchee’s going to experience in the future. ... We have opportunities for growth, but there are some obstacles in the way. It goes along with keeping taxes low but also helping them work through the process so we can grow.”
Poirier plans to run again in 2021, either at-large or in District 2.
His advice for whoever takes his spot on the council this year? Go to department meetings and do your research. It’s a time-consuming job, he said.
“I think sometimes people that run don’t realize how much is involved with it,” he said. “I’m on five or seven different boards and committees, and you really need to be on top of your game. You want to give the best advice you can.”