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Is Lakewood manufacturing a leadership vacuum?

In Lakewood the mayor and deputy mayor are not directly elected. They are chosen by the City Council. So when Donald Anderson stood down as mayor, the council chose a replacement, who was Jason Whalen, the deputy mayor.

These council-chosen positions are not just ceremonial and are not special prizes for long service. They carry real power, for example through the chairing of meetings and through influence and patronage. While usually the mayor has most of the influence, the deputy mayor must be ready to temporarily take over.

Also, the deputy mayorship is a pathway to leadership. On January 7 2008 Donald Anderson, as a newly elected council member, was appointed unanimously as deputy mayor. Five years later he became full mayor.

We would therefore expect the new deputy mayor to be a future leader. Or as the Tacoma News Tribune put it in July 2021, when endorsing council member Patti Belle, she “could be a bridge between the accomplished old guard and a well-rounded new generation of leaders”.

Unfortunately Patti Belle has shown very little aptitude for political leadership. Last spring she was appointed to the City Council, following the resignation of John Simpson, and she appears to have been appointed for her ability to mould herself to a pre-existing organizational culture. When commenting on policy she tends to parrot other council members, and it is possible that she feels a debt of gratitude to the people who appointed her.

In terms of a new generation of leaders, it seems that the few realistic candidates for deputy mayor declined to put their names forward. One might have expected Linda Farmer or Paul Bocchi to put their names forward. They are both in their fifties, so have at least another fifteen years of political life. But instead they stood back and allowed Mary Moss to become deputy mayor.

Mary Moss was first elected in 2009, and as a city leader she is ineffective – almost as ineffective as Patti Belle. I would assume that she won’t be standing for re-election when her term runs out at the end of 2025, so it does look as if the deputy mayorship is little more than a long service award.

As for the new mayor, Jason Whalen, whose term also runs out in 2025, one wonders if Lakewood is the summit of his political ambitions. In 2020 he narrowly failed to get elected to Pierce council and I find it difficult to believe that he won’t try again for higher elected office.

So what happens next? As it stands Lakewood is approaching a leadership vacuum. And it almost feels that Mary Moss was given the deputy mayorship as a way of keeping the seat warm for someone else. We then have to look very carefully at the 2023 election, and see who puts themselves forward to replace Donald Anderson on the council.

If I had to speculate, I think it might be Anderson’s daughter, Alyssa Anderson Pearson, the current board president of the Clover Park School District. She might also be Lakewood’s next deputy mayor and then mayor, unless an excellent, well-funded candidate can stop her getting elected in 2023.

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