The mayor won her first election as mayor in 2017 with nearly 75 percent of the vote
VANCOUVER — Many of the faces were the same, but the circumstances could hardly have been more different as Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle announced on Friday that she would be running for a second term leading Washington state’s fourth-largest city.
Four years ago, the one-term councilwoman was at the Vancouver Firefighters’ Union Hall to announce her successful bid to become the city’s first female mayor. This year, the announcement was held remotely over Zoom.
“Things have changed,” said McEnerny-Ogle, “we’ve pivoted. We’re more flexible. Life has changed for us, and it’s going to be very different.”
One thing that hadn’t changed was the person introducing McEnerny-Ogle.
Former City Councilor Larry Smith said Friday that many of the statements he’d made four years ago still held true, calling McEnerny-Ogle likely the “most qualified person to ever run for mayor.”
“The last bold statement I said is that if you find me another person who brings these skills and involvement in the community to public service,” Smith added, “and I’ll take you out on the bridge and I’ll kiss your rear end.”
After listing the committees and executive groups McEnerny-Ogle has been part of during her time in office, Smith concluded that “there must be more than one Anne to do all this.”
McEnerny-Ogle, a retired math teacher, got into politics largely by accident, starting with an effort to help get a park built near their home, then pushing for better codes for Accessory Dwelling Units.
That led her to join the Planning Commission, and then eventually a successful bid for city council.
In 2017, she was elected as mayor by over 50 percentage points, easily beating Steven Cox to replace Tim Leavitt who decided not to run for a third term.
Plans to reach out to Vancouver voters with a funding package to build new parks, add more public safety, and increase affordable housing largely went by the wayside before the midway point of 2020, as the city braced for an economic blow due to the novel coronavirus.
“COVID is a big, big issue for us,” McEnerny-Ogle said Friday, “and it’s one that we will continue to work on probably for a year, to bring back that thriving sustainable economy that we were having before.”
While the blow to the city’s economy and budget hasn’t been as severe as first anticipated, it has at least stalled the rapid growth the area had been enjoying.
“Beyond the pandemic we had protests that we needed to listen to, we had a use of force issue that we needed to work on,” the mayor said. “So we had the PERF (Police Executive Review Forum) group come in and give us those 80-plus recommendations.”
McEnerny-Ogle said a task force is currently combing through those recommendations, hoping to provide input for the city council later this year. That could include recommending funding for police-worn body cameras, which the city set aside $500,000 for in its biennial budget.
Another major priority if she’s re-elected, McEnerny-Ogle said, would continue to be addressing the city’s ongoing lack of affordable housing and growing homelessness crisis.
“I went through the community survey results a couple of nights ago and did a word search, and a word count,” the mayor said. “The words ‘homelessness,’ ‘housing,’ and ‘affordable housing’ came up more than anything else.”
Interestingly, she added, the word “Portland” showed up more frequently than the word “taxes.”
“‘We don’t want the homelessness that we’re seeing in Portland,'” McEnerny-Ogle said, paraphrasing what they’d heard from the community. “‘Help us with the homelessness.'”
Clark County, in a joint effort with the state’s Department of Commerce, is set to soon announce funding to open a new homeless shelter, and has entered a joint executive working group with the city to help look into other solutions for the problem.
Another primary issue will be transportation, including whether the city should look to adjust its funding mechanism to move away from car tab fees, despite the state Supreme Court striking down voter-approved Initiative 976 last year. Republicans in the state legislature are likely to seek action this session to address the will of the voters.
The city will also be a key player as the new Interstate Bridge replacement project continues.
“It’s moving forward. We have community advisory, equity advisory the steering committee, and now we’re working on the new funding package,” McEnerny-Ogle said. “So it’s all very exciting.”
Despite being in the back half of her 60s (she won’t say exactly how old she is), the mayor says she’s as motivated and excited as ever to serve, and hopeful the people of Vancouver will keep her in office next November.
To date, no other candidates have announced their intention to run for a position that is sure to draw a lot of attention as the year moves along.