As my friend Sharon says, politics ain’t beanbag, and it certainly ain’t beanbag on little Bainbridge Island. What I’ve watched, for the past few years, is an awful and depressing fight between community activists/councilmembers who dislike city government and community activists/councilmembers who despise those who take this position.
This kind of fight doesn’t have to be bad. Indeed, good things often come from the clash between pro-and anti-government positions. But the Bainbridge version of this fight is really awful, since it’s rarely about ideas or principles. We tend to fight about people. More precisely, we fight (or just proclaim) about who is good or bad, who is polite or rude, or whose social connections make them the right “type” to serve in city government.
News flash to my fellow Islanders. There are no tea party monsters hiding behind the bushes. Nor are there brave knights coming to City Hall on horseback, in January, to valiantly oppose them. Local politics is complicated, messy, and boring. The issues do not lend themselves to ideological fights or partisan positions. Good councilmembers show up to meetings, week after week, despite their other engagements. They forge alliances with people, even people they don’t like, and they respond to their constituents. They ask tough questions, even when those questions are resented, because it’s other people’s money that they are spending. We don’t talk much about these things when we talk about Bainbridge politics. It’s a shame. These are the things that are important.
Which brings me to Debbi Lester, whose last day on city council is tomorrow. I’ve been thinking about Debbi’s four years of service, and how to properly praise her. There have been major achievements, to be sure, and big things we should be grateful for. Revitiazling the non-motorized transportation committee and getting more trails and bike lanes built. Being a key player in the ferry settlement, and making sure the settlement money is spent on waterfront improvements. Helping, through her work on two transportation committees, to get millions of dollars in transportation funding for Bainbridge Island. Working with her colleagues to obtain utility rate reductions. Demanding high standards of ethical and professional conduct in the office of city manager.
But I think we should remember Debbi for the everyday things, the mundane stuff that made her an exceptional councilmember. Debbi worked hard. She always showed up, and she always showed up prepared. She educated herself about issues. She asked city staff lots of questions. She encouraged people to be politically involved, and helped orient those new to government. She used her position to praise people, defend them, and thank them for their contributions. She was the brunt of some whopper political attacks and personal betrayals, but she refused to be deterred. (In fact, they made her stronger and more committed.) She walked around downtown, every day, to make sure things looked good. She planted flowers when no one was looking. And she brought more funk to Bainbridge.
Thanks Debbi. You did great. And you are so appreciated.
Note from the Editors: Inside Bainbridge would like to second this statement of appreciation to Debbi Lester, an extraordinary and extraordinarily committed member of our community. We thank you for your dedicated service and for always doing more than you had to, with heart.