Pinky Vargas launches campaign for Bellingham mayoral race

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By Gwen Roley

Former candidate for state senator Pinky Vargas is running for another position this year.

After losing the incredibly close race against Doug Ericksen for the state senator position last fall, Vargas will be running for mayor of Bellingham in the election at the end of this year.

She is one of three candidates so far who have announced their intention to run for the office.

Vargas announced her intention to run on February 20 on social media and officially filed her candidacy the same day, according to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) website.

“I’m running because I love this city,” Vargas said. “It’s an incredible opportunity with Mayor Linville leaving to build off what she’s done.”

Current Bellingham mayor Kelli Linville announced she would not be seeking a third term in a Facebook post on February 5.

“[She] did a great job of stabilizing the city and I think we’re at a point right now where we can springboard into bigger things,” Vargas said.

Vargas garnered widespread attention last year after running against incumbent Ericksen in the race for the 42nd district. The race was so close that it merited a recount, and Ericksen was re-elected by just 45 votes.

Vargas said that her time campaigning for the position allowed her to get to know the communities in Whatcom County outside of Bellingham. If elected, she said she would work on building stronger relationships between Bellingham and the rest of the county.

“I want to ensure I’ll be supporting the smaller cities so we have a stronger voice at the legislative level,” she said. “We’re so much more powerful if we’re unified together.”

Vargas is currently serving her second year of a four-year term on the Bellingham City Council, representing Ward 4. This is her second term in the position. In her time serving as a city councilmember, she has served as mayor pro tem and council president. If she is elected mayor, her colleagues on the council would appoint a replacement to fill her seat. Vargas also works as an account manager at Puget Sound Energy (PSE).

“My time at PSE has given me the opportunity to work with a lot of the businesses in Whatcom County on energy efficiency development and energy expansion,” she said.

Vargas hopes to translate this experience over to create more energy efficient solutions for Bellingham. She also expressed her interest in growing the economy and creating jobs.

Vargas wants to support workers who may not live in Bellingham but who work in the city limits by aiding public transportation and the Whatcom Transit Authority. She also said the county could improve accessibility by increasing the number of emergency medical transportation vehicles.

Vargas said she wants to strengthen relationships between local ports and tribes.

One issue that will be particularly important in this mayoral race will be Bellingham’s growing housing availability and homelessness problems. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development put Bellingham vacancy rates at 3.4 percent in 2017.

“I want to be more effective in how we address the housing and homelessness crises,” Vargas said.

This is also a theme of the other campaigns that have been launched for the mayor so far. Local building company owner Garrett O’Brien has highlighted housing solutions as one of his top priorities for Bellingham. He said that homelessness should start becoming a county-wide issue that should be addressed by all the cities in Whatcom County.

“Bellingham provides most of the services in the county and we need a stronger relationship with the smaller cities in the county to solve some of these issues,” O’Brien said. “All of these issues are becoming mutual.”

O’Brien filed his candidacy on December 4, according to the PDC. He owns and manages Volanta Corporation and is a member of the Bellingham Planning and Development Commission. He hopes to use this experience to address housing, which he says is one of the area’s biggest issues.

“Now is a critical time of growth in Bellingham so we want make sure we’re growing in the right direction,” O’Brien said.

Vargas’ fellow councilmember April Barker announced her candidacy on February 28. Barker has been representing the 1st Ward since 2016. In a press release from that same day, Barker said her goals included climate change solutions, local immigration enforcement over federal regulations and provision of safer, wider housing options.

“As your mayor, I will strive for inclusive excellence and work with you to create systems that are efficient, fair, and provide opportunity for all of us,” Barker said in the press release.

As of press time, Barker’s candidate filing did not appear on the PDC website.

Once Barker files, there will need to be a primary election which will take place on August 6, since mayor is a non-partisan position. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary will run against each other in the general election on November 5.

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