Who are the two people running for
SNOHOMISH — It’s the same story each big election cycle in local government.
Two candidates make it through the August primary, campaigning tough to win the trust and votes of their potential constituents and have some similar ideals about what moves they would make once they win, but only one can win. The people choose who that will be.
But this time, for Snohomish, the story is different.
Snohomish will be choosing a strong mayor for the first time since 1971 to lead City Hall operations. There are two candidates running to lead the city.
Who the candidates are can be shown through words, some actions, and how they manage their campaigns.
Here’s what the Tribune heard in recent talks with mayoral candidates Karen W. Guzak and John T. Kartak, two opposites on the political spectrum on recent Snohomish issues, including the very issue of changing the city’s form of government from weak mayor to strong mayor (Guzak opposed, Kartak helped promote), one of the biggest debates in recent town history.
Karen Guzak, 78
“This campaign isn’t about me, although it is about my candidacy, but really it’s about making a kinder, stronger, more civil city.”
Guzak, a current city councilwoman and yoga teacher/owner of Yoga Circle Studio, believes her journey to “promote vitality and preserve history” in Snohomish is by sticking to what she knows and has learned since entering politics in 2003: To remain balanced and keep going. The energetic 78-year-old has no plans to bow out from her goals. She plans to listen to the people she has come to know and love since moving
to Snohomish full-time in 2000.
Before coming to Snohomish part-time in 1993, Guzak lived in Seattle as an artist, creating and running artist communities, as well as in Boston as the wife of a physician and mother to three children.
Her oldest child, a daughter, had brittle bone disease and was not expected to live past infancy. She lived until age 29.
“She was amazing, she had this big spirit,” Guzak said, describing her daughter’s independence and accomplishments. “She graduated from college, she had a job, she lived a very full life and was a great spiritual teacher of mine about how we get what we get, we are who we are, and we have to live life fully. We live fully.”
Guzak said raising her children to think and act independently, as encouraged by her own father, a university professor, when growing up in Boulder, Colorado, allowed her to gain more perspective about life as it happens and to go for what you want in pursuing leadership roles. Following her divorce from Dr. Steve Guzak, Karen Guzak pursued her dream.
“I started my artist life, I left behind my doctor’s wife life and it was very scary but also very liberating,” Guzak said. “I grew up where I was supposed to be an ‘obedient woman’ but my father supported me and my rascally, rebel ways to go my own way and speak my mind, stand up for my beliefs, and I have always tried to do that. Now after serving for 10 years on City Council, I seek to do that, give all that I am to this city, in a collaborative, collegial, team-focused way.”
Guzak restored the old St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Snohomish originally as a weekend getaway project with her partner. She had meant to retire, but soon felt a calling to what she believes was a bigger purpose in the town of Snohomish. After kicking off her yoga studio in 2003, Guzak ran for City Council. A few years into sitting on the council, she was chosen by her council peers as the mayor-in-title, a role she held until earlier this year when she relinquished the role to
take a breather following the success of Proposition No. 2, which she and the city council had openly opposed.
This change in form of government was approved by an 11-vote margin. Guzak said that “I feel a lot of people had misinformation about
what this means, so my job I think, is to transition as smoothly as we can so that we do not lose the good staff that we have, the good people that are running our city and to keep the good things going on in our city going,” Guzak said. “We have a number of issues coming up in 2018, and we want to keep
the economy going, our economic development going
and other city projects.”
Guzak spelled out some of the major issues that appear in the city’s 2018 proposed budget. As a councilwoman, Guzak remains close to these topics and said there is more positivity in the mix despite the government structure change, something she
viewed as a negative.
Apart from city council topics, there are also community issues Guzak is hearing about from the people she meets and greets in town.
“People are concerned about growth in the city, fears
that we are going to become big like Lynnwood, but I can tell you, Snohomish is always going to be a small town because we’re constrained by geography,” Guzak said. “We’re expected to be about 12,000 people in the next 20 years, so that’s manageable growth. Other concerns are the homelessness and opioid crisis, which I am certainly up for taking this on so long as we work with our law enforcement and our community partners, social services.”
Uniting the community to combat the homelessness and opioid crisis, Guzak said, can be done through working harder with partners, educating the people to make them aware and helping out police by reporting any incidents. Guzak, who was the former chair of the Snohomish
Health District’s board, said the district is working hard to educate people and municipalities about the opioid crisis.
“They are doing the best they can, and we should, too,” she said.
The way to approach the strong mayor job as head of daily operations at City Hall is seen by Guzak as wielding her leadership skills and experience on City Council as well as running her own company and small business, things
that have shaped what she
feels is meant to be.
“I have the capacity for it, I have the heart for it, I have the knowledge for it, and I have the kindness for it and I feel this is my destiny right now. I am going to serve with all that I have, that I bring to this job. I have great relationships with city staff, the council and I know lots of people in this city, county and the state and I really think I can make this work.”
John Kartak, 54
“My whole family is from here, we all grew up right across the valley. This is our home, and it is our treasure which deserves our care and protection.”
Kartak, a seasoned general contractor and former operations manager of his family’s business AAA Kartak Glass, believes his push with others in the community for change in the city’s government and subsequent candidacy is part of his goal to “protect” Snohomish and represent the people he says have not been represented well by the city in recent years. The can-do 54-year-old is not afraid
to get into the thick of issues, from a citizen perspective, being new to politics.
He grew up on the edge of the Snohomish Valley, climbing the large trees that grew on his family’s small farm to
watch the trains roll by and planes fly overhead and to listen to the whistle of the lumber mill.
“The Snohomish Valley is one of the most beautiful places on earth,” Kartak said. “I’m not the only
one who feels this way. We all live here and feel this way, we love this place, it’s about our valley.”
After high school, Kartak worked in his family’s business, AAA Kartak Glass, becoming the operations manager at age 21, where he was responsible for managing installations crews and internal manufacturing employees. He also filled in as office manager and
has worked as a general contractor the majority of his adult life. Kartak described his years of working with his hands as some of the best time to learn managing skills, people skills, “things you can’t learn from a text book.”
“I’ve been a general contractor for all but about a half dozen years of my adult life,” he said. “I’ve been responsible for large groups of employees. It requires a lot more dedication than most people realize.”
Working and living locally allowed for Kartak’s family to grow and thrive in Snoho-mish. All five of his sons grew up here and attended Snohomish High School; his youngest son is still enrolled. His five grandchildren are also making memories in Snohomish. Kartak feels much conviction in the idea of making a difference in town because it is part of who he is. He became more involved in city issues two years
ago, with the founding of CPR-Snohomish, a grassroots organization focused on community activism, lending his leadership skills and thoughtfulness.
The group wanted to seek more transparency in the city government, following the summer 2015 revelation that Verizon Wireless was looking to install a cell tower next to the Snohomish Boys & Girls Club, after the city had removed a zoning restriction “for playground purposes only.” It was an action Kartak and friends felt was not transparent and not what people wanted. They campaigned against it, eventually leading to Verizon withdrawing its application with the city and a few months later, the City Council modified the zoning to not allow cell towers in city parks.
Kartak felt there was more to be done, so he and others petitioned for Proposition No. 2 in fall 2016, which proposed a change in the city’s form of government from Council-City Manager (weak mayor) to Mayor-Council (strong mayor). It passed by 11 votes following a re-count.
“I worked with members of this community to change our form of government to a strong elected mayor,” Kartak said. “The mayor needs to be accountable to citizens. Prop. 2 is a mandate from the community. People here feel that they are not being heard and I think that they are
unhappy with ‘business as usual’ (by the City Council). I am the only citizen running for election that promoted Proposition 2.”
The other candidates in the mayoral race, prior to the August primary, said they had not supported Proposition 2. Kartak feels the change in the government structure is the direction the city needs to go, in order to pursue tackling some the issues such as the city budget, zoning, traffic, homelessness, clean parks and the opioid crisis. Kartak has seen the effects of
needles, garbage and refuse in local parks and trails and made it a personal mission to be part of the solution.
“For two years I’ve been cleaning up garbage on the Interurban Trail (by the Dollar Tree) and at the Pilchuck Park. I always bring a garbage bag with me and fill it up. I hate garbage, I hate litter. John Kartak is cleaning up the streets of our town!”
Zoning and traffic are two other topics Kartak wants to tackle, if elected as strong mayor.
“We have traffic problems here,” he said. “That’s a tough one. We need to get a fire lit underneath Olympia’s feet on (state Route) 9. When Governor (Jay) Inslee was (in the area), the mayor of Monroe took him on a tour of (Highway) 522 and was explaining that it’s got to get fixed. Kids aren’t getting to school on time. People here are spending hours
stuck in traffic trying to get to and from work each day. Highway 9 needs to get fixed. We need to redesign intersections here in town. We need to take the Governor on a tour of Highway 9. We should invite him to come visit us. Making the Pilchuck District (development guideline area around Second Street and Maple Avenue) more dense like ‘Lynnwood Northeast,’ is not a part of the equation that can solve our traffic problems.”
Kartak’s skepticism regarding the Pilchuck District stems from his — and he says others’ — concerns about the density in housing since the zoning approves larger buildings.
Apart from that, at the end of the day, the boy who grew up watching Snohomish Valley’s hustle and bustle, and who became the man that worked on glass and general contracting in the area while
raising his family in Snohomish, wants to listen and act on behalf of the people.
“In the last few years I’ve had opportunities to visit with a lot of people; neighbors and people in our community to listen with an open mind,” he said. “I’ve spent time lately attending ‘meet-the-candidate’ events in people’s homes and getting a lot of positive feedback.”
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