Fire board candidates spend thousands in spirited race

As the Nov. 8 election day draws near, two candidates for Vashon Island Fire & Rescue’s board are finishing one of the most publicly fought contests on Vashon in recent memory.

And the very visible buttons, yard signs, newspaper ads and brochures produced in their campaigns have prompted supporters of each candidate to inquire into the other’s spending.

Both candidates chose to limit their fundraising to $5,000, an option that means they won’t have to report their finances to the state.

Candy McCullough, who was appointed to Position 4 on the board in June and is running to retain it, said she has spent about $3,440 on her campaign so far, which has included mailing full-color brochures to Island residents.

Though she has a “donate” button on her website, McCullough said she isn’t much of a fundraiser and has never asked any individuals for money. She has brought in about $1,550 in donations and $40 in in-kind contributions and spent about $1,850 of her own money.

Joe Ulatoski, a retired Army brigadier general who is challenging McCullough for Position 4, has spent nearly the same amount on his campaign — about $3,680 — but has covered most of his expenses with donated funds.

Ulatoski, who sent letters and emails to bring in donations, has raised $4,040, as well as about $500 in in-kind contributions. He has spent about $335 of his own money and says he may reimburse himself for about a third of that, which was spent on sign posts.

The last time Island roads were lined with campaign signs was in 2007, when four Islanders ran in a heated contest for one spot on the fire board. Neal Philip, who won the race, said he also spent at least $3,000 on his campaign.

May Gerstle, who has given to Ulatoski and has closely followed the race, said she likes to see campaigns play out on Vashon. She noted that Islanders seem to take elections seriously, and there is a high voter turnout on Vashon.

“I think it’s very healthy,” she said. “A yard sign is a sign of a democracy at work.”

The race for Position 4 on the board is clearly more hard-fought than the race for Position 1 — with Deborah Brown challenging incumbent Ron Turner. However, Philip said he’s glad to see that both candidates have remained more civil than those who ran four years ago.

“These candidates are pretty respectful,” Philip said. “It’s a nice campaign to see.”

Behind the scenes, though, supporters of each candidate have taken some time to keep the other in check. On Monday, the first day candidates for public office were required to reveal their donations and expenditures, both Ulatoski and McCullough opened their books to public scrutiny.

Two members of Ulatoski’s team, Gerstle and Truman O’Brien, met with McCullough’s treasurer on

Monday to go over her finances. Ulatoski said he thought someone from his team should look at her books as part of simple procedure.

“It’s a question of keeping people honest, to know your books are out there and are available for public viewing,” he said.

Ulatoski opened his own books the same day to Barb Stoddard, a friend of McCullough. Stoddard said she’s had no part in McCullough’s campaign. She made the request of her own volition after noticing in an Oct. 9 article in The Beachcomber that Ulatoski declined to say how much he had raised at the time.

She added that their meeting was cordial and nothing in his expenditures raised flags.

“They are fine as far as I can tell,” she said.

McCullough, for her part, said she had no interest in seeing Ulatoski’s numbers.

“I don’t care about what he’s doing, but I am curious why they’re insisting on looking at mine,” she said.

Gerstle, who noted that the two interested parties’ disclosure requests crossed in the mail, said she didn’t expect to find anything alarming in McCullough’s books, but felt someone should take a look.

“It’s pro forma,” she said.


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