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Merritt: Already making city campaign plans for 2011

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Jan. 7, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
January 7, 2010 6:18 pm

A day after his bid for an appointment to fill one of two open seats on the Tacoma City Council ended, the runner-up in last year’s race for mayor already has plans to run for the council in 2011.

Jim Merritt
Jim Merritt

“My goal is to do that,” architect Jim Merritt told me Thursday. “My goal is to run again. And it looks like two years is when the next opportunity is.”

Merritt said he doesn’t know yet which of three council seats coming open in 2012 (candidates will vie for those seats during the 2011 campaign) he’ll run for, but he’s certain he’s running.

The seats coming up then include the council’s Position 1 seat (representing parts of north and west Tacoma) now held by second-term Councilman Spiro Manthou, and the at-large Position 7 and 8 seats that are now vacant.

The open seats, last held by Julie Anderson and Marilyn Strickland, were vacated after each councilwoman won election to other offices in November (Strickland beat Merritt for the mayor’s job; Anderson won the county auditor’s job). As we’ve reported, the city council expects to appoint two applicants to serve out the unexpired terms for the vacant council seats — each with about two years remaining — later this month.

Merritt was among 44 people who applied to the city last month for appointment to either of the vacancies. Along with most applicants, he was eliminated from further contention Wednesday, after the city council approved eight finalists from the applicants’ pool to move on to public interviews to be held Jan. 12.

(Merritt said he is disappointed he isn’t moving on in the process, but added he respects the council’s decision. Still, he criticized the closed-door aspects of the appointment process, saying the entire process should have taken place in public.  “Nothing’s hidden behind closed doors in an election,” he said. “Why should this (process) be any different?”)

In falling short in his campaign for the mayor’s office in November, Merritt garnered more than 48 percent of the vote citywide. According to voting abstracts, Merritt ran particularly well in District 1, where he lives. He drew more than 6,300 votes to Strickland’s nearly 5,400, outpacing her by about 8 percentage points among voters who cast ballots for either of the two candidates, election records show.

By comparison, Manthou won the District 1 election by pulling just under 5,000 votes in 2003, and won a second term with more than 6,100 votes in 2007.

Given Merritt’s strong showing in his home district last election — if he drew 6,300 votes again, it would seem he’d be a shoe-in to win in 2011 — why would he even consider running for either at-large seat?

“There are things to be evaluated, so that’s yet to be determined,” he said. “I don’t know, I’ve yet to find a compelling reason to run for one seat or the other.”

At-large council campaigns are far more costly — and seemingly more risky — than would be a much smaller District 1 campaign. In 2009’s costly mayoral race — essentially, an at-large council race — Merritt had to loan his campaign $10,000 of his own money, state Public Disclosure Commission records show.

Given the costs and the voting numbers, the decision would seem like a no-brainer. So what gives?

“I’ve just kind of hesitated to look at the numbers yet,” he said.  “It may very well be that what you said is compelling reason enough to go to the District 1 seat, but I really don’t want to jump to a decision just yet.  I haven’t really been studying those numbers that deeply yet.  I really haven’t. I have very simple goals.”

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