Familiar duo is back on the ballot for unofficial mayor

Susan Riemer/Staff Photo
                                Bernie O’Malley and Hilary Emmer.

Susan Riemer/Staff Photo Bernie O’Malley and Hilary Emmer.

Two additional unofficial mayor candidates have tossed their hats into the ring, and their names will be familiar to many: Bernie and Hilary.

This Vashon duo, Bernie O’Malley and Hilary Emmer, previously served as unofficial mayors when they won in 2016 on the Vashon Senior Center ticket. Emmer, a longtime community activist, also won the contest in 2012, when she raised more than $8,000 for children’s dental care and medical services. The two this year are raising money for the Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness (IFCH). O’Malley has set the bar high for this fundraising election season.

“We want $20,000,” he said, taking a break from selling produce at his corner stand on a recent Friday.

Such a sum would exceed what unofficial mayor races typically bring in — $3,000 to $5,000 — according to Vashon-Maury Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jim Marsh, but Emmer said the money would be used for good causes: the daily meals program at area churches and on-island rental housing assistance.

The council is funded entirely through private donations and in 2017 spent more than $116,000 on direct client needs, a 30 percent increase from 2016 and $23,000 more than the organization brought in last year, Emmer said.

One of the main reasons for the increased need for assistance is the higher cost of housing and dwindling rental stock, Emmer said. Last year, the council assisted 45 families and 255 people with rent, utilities, mortgage assistance and temporary shelter — up 35 percent from the year before. As people with limited incomes need to move to new rental properties, if they are lucky enough to find another place, it can be difficult, if not impossible to come up with the first and last month’s rent and the deposit. To that end, IFCH has a loan program that helps with these expenses.

Funds raised in the mayoral race will also support the meals program, which provides free meals to anyone who needs them seven days a week. Last year, IFCH paid all the expenses of the program, more than $14,000.

O’Malley, who also serves on the board of the Vashon Senior Center, said part of his motivation for running his popular produce stand is to support island causes with the proceeds. Running for unofficial mayor comes from the same desire to do good in this community. Now retired, he used to be a bill collector for the City of Seattle.

“I used to make people homeless,” he said. “I have got to make amends.”

His allegiance to Emmer, who has been involved in many social service needs on the island over the years, also played a role in reprising his candidacy.

“Hilary is my friend. If it bothers Hilary, it bothers me,” he said, noting her tenacity on behalf of low-income people. “She works this issue day and night. She is always on job.”

The current unofficial mayor, Tink, who incidentally raised $20,000 for IFCH during her run last year, is frequently spotted about town with her vibrant green Tinkerbell outfit and magic wand. Emmer’s sartorial choices tend more toward jeans and a sweatshirt, as do O’Malley’s, and neither plans to change should they return to the mayoral position.

“I won’t be as colorful as Tink, except when I am talking about housing and the food program,” Emmer said.

The duo joined several other contestants for the contest, including R2-D2 and BB-8 for the Vashon Schools Foundation, Miss Lucy for the Heritage Museum and Goliath for Vashon Community Care. The nomination process is now closed, and voting is underway for all contestants, with each vote costing $1. Islanders are encouraged to vote early and often if they are able for the mayor of their choice. The winner will be announced during the Strawberry Festival.

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