As the race draws closer to election day, unofficial Vashon mayor hopefuls, including a canine, a sheep, a longtime fixture of the community and a team of young women, are making waves as part of the annual island competition that traditionally coincides with the Strawberry Festival.
The candidates all launched their campaigns last month to earn the votes of islanders and raise money for several local charities and nonprofits, with most of the legwork happening virtually.
The unofficial mayor’s race has been organized by the Vashon-Maury Island Chamber of Commerce every summer for 19 years. Each candidate must select an island organization to fundraise for and declare their run to the chamber and to Vashon’s newspapers. One dollar is one vote, and donations can be made in collection boxes set around town as well as online.
The deadline to file was June 15. The winner of the annual contest will be announced by the chamber on July 18.
Fleur for Vashon Island Pet Protectors (VIPP)
Newcomer Fleur the Schnauzer puppy declared her candidacy for unofficial mayor on a platform shaped by the idea that working together has the power to change lives. It was inspired by the trials of her early life. She was born to a backyard breeder and struggled against malnourishment and disease after several other dogs she lived with contracted the highly contagious and potentially deadly canine parvovirus. But after being rescued and rehabilitated by VIPP volunteers last year, Fleur has gone on to enjoy a full life with owner Lucinda Runyan.
President Bob Smueles said Fleur’s story is a testament to the work of VIPP volunteers as well as a reminder that one of the organization’s largest continuing expenses is veterinary care. Moreover, Smueles said, to better serve the needs of pets in the community, VIPP is seeking funds to one day construct a dog shelter, though the pandemic has meant that the organization is unable to proceed with some of its biggest fundraiser events of the year. That includes the annual Fur Ball, which has brought together hundreds of islanders in the past to raise money for VIPP but will not take place this year.
Even still, Smueles said that the volunteers and staff of VIPP are frequently reminded of how much islanders want to engage and help with animal care.
“We’re seen as an animal rescue organization and an animal shelter organization, but it turns out that really means that we hold people together, because it’s people who adopt these animals and take care of them,” he said, noting that animals such as Fleur act almost as ambassadors and help strengthen bonds in the community.
Sid for Vashon Youth and Family Services (VYFS)
The other four-legged candidate for mayor in this race is Sid the Jacob sheep, a locavore seeking to empower island youth. Sid’s campaign manager and caregiver, 14-year-old Madeline Yarkin, has bottle-fed him since he was two weeks old and said he has the right disposition for the role of mayor.
Yarkin said that Sid, running on behalf of VYFS, appreciates what some young people go through and recognizes that services at the agency run the gamut from mental health care with trained counselors to the Vashon Kids program, touching the lives of scores of elementary school children over the years.
“Hopefully everyone will vote because it’s a great cause, Vashon Youth and Family Services,” Yarkin said, adding that Sid is planning appearances around town in the coming days to meet with his constituents.
Maarten Ribalet-Coesel, Raena Joyce, Lucca Hansen and Selene Dalinis for Vashon Sisterhood
Four students of McMurray Middle School have declared their intention to jointly run for Vashon’s highest office to give voice to their peers and raise funds for the nonprofit Vashon Sisterhood.
The all-volunteer organization was started two years ago in response to concerns about island adolescent substance abuse and mental health, inspired by the model created for boys by Vashon’s Journeymen. Sisterhood is dedicated to supporting the healthy social and emotional development of girls and young women on the island according to Chautauqua Elementary School teacher Margie Butcher, who is on the board of directors.
“The organization is not intended to be therapy or therapeutic — there are loads of wonderful organizations on the island for that. This is just a place that you know is there for you and a group of people that you know are there for you,” Butcher said. “So it’s really just this regular safe space for a feeling of belonging, a place that you can be heard and know that it stays confidential. And there’s a couple of adults there that are helping the girls through this process but we really follow their lead.”
Sisterhood currently serves more than 80 girls and female-identifying students between the ages of nine and 18 through Circles in Schools groups meeting weekly in the Vashon Island School District and The Harbor School.
Currently, one-third of Vashon Sisterhood’s Circles in Schools program is funded by a grant from the Vashon Schools Foundation. The mayoral campaign is aimed to raise enough money to be able to continue and potentially expand the program in the 2020-21 academic year, so that additional programs and opportunities may be offered for more girls to participate in mentorship, activism, rites of passage and nature-based experiences.
Barbara Steen for the Vashon Heritage Museum
Lifelong islander Barbara Steen, who celebrated her 91st birthday at her home of more than 60 years last week, will be representing the heritage museum in a run for Vashon’s unofficial mayor.
Steen’s decades of community and civic service have earned her great respect and numerous admirers in the community, earning her the name “Mother Steen” for her involvement in the schools and with sports teams. With a clear memory of decades of colorful island life, she is campaigning on the idea that everyone has an important story, and that the heritage museum can help tell them.
In an interview, Steen said she has missed volunteering regularly as well as her involvement with the museum and attending church service, staying closer to home in light of the pandemic, but is otherwise doing fine, adjusting well to life on the campaign trail.
“I was quite surprised when the board of directors just asked me if I would do this. I said, ‘well, I’m happy to raise money for the museum,’ but the other part didn’t quite sit with me. But I’m rolling with it,” Steen said.
Director Elsa Croonquist said that Steen has enhanced the museum’s work to preserve the history of Vashon, helping with research and filling in details that would have otherwise been left out of the record because she was there to witness the events unfold. Many visitors from off-island have a history of some kind on Vashon, Croonquist said, and their experiences of rediscovering the past thanks to volunteers like Steen make all the difference.
“When people walk through the door, they see the museum, and then they can connect with someone like Barbara who actually has that story. You just see them go, ‘oh wow.’ They just want to talk. ‘Let’s find out about my grandma, my great-grandma, my history.’ It’s wonderful.”
Islanders can vote for their favorite candidate online at vashonchamber.com/unofficial-mayors.