Elections

UPDATE | Sparkman has commanding lead in race for Langley City Council seat

Incumbent Russell Sparkman had a big lead over political newcomer Thomas Gill for a four-year term on the Langley City Council in returns released on Tuesday night.

It was Sparkman's first try for the post after having been appointed this past year to fill the seat on the five-member council vacated by Neil Colburn.

Sparkman had 66 percent of the vote, or 166 total votes, to Gill's 33 percent, or 85 votes, in the race for Position 5 on the council.

Also in the balloting, city council members Rene Neff and Robert Gilman, who were unopposed, will receive new four-year terms.

"This will be the first election I've ever won," Sparkman said Tuesday night. "I had a little rapid heartbeat as I pulled the results up for the first time."

Sparkman said the vote appears to indicate confidence in his work on the council, and the overall direction of the council as a whole in the past year.

Gill said Tuesday night he would wait for more concrete numbers.

"I'm still hoping something happens," he said.

But whatever the result, Gill said he's just getting started in politics.

"If he wins, then good for him," Gill added of his opponent. "I'll keep myself involved in the ongoings of Langley one way or another."

Sparkman praised Gill for taking part in the campaign, and urged him to continue to take an active role in the affairs of the city.

Sparkman said more people in Langley should follow the lead of his opponent.

"It's pretty cool he stepped up to the plate," Sparkman said.

"I'd like to see a lot more participation by people," he continued. "If you have a beef, come to the council meetings and voice it, don't just take potshots."

The Sparkman-Gill campaign featured a lively discourse on growth, diversity and identity in the seaside city of 1,100, with Sparkman pushing economic innovation in the Internet age, and Gill warning of a South Whidbey that could come to look like Mercer Island.

Sparkman, 50, has lived on South Whidbey since 2001 and in Langley since 2002. He has been self-employed or the head of his own corporation since 1993, and currently operates his Internet consulting company Fusionspark Media from his home.

He got his start in city politics with an appointment to the Planning Advisory Board, where he said he cultivated a taste for the political process.

He said the key for the city's future is economic diversity, and that Langley should emphasize Langley's strong arts, culture and educational components.

Gill, 25, a Whidbey Telecom tech-support agent, is a South Whidbey native and 2001 graduate of South Whidbey High School.

Despite his political inexperience, Gill said during the campaign that he was running for city council because he loves Langley and wants to help shape its future.

He said Langley should act like a city and encourage a mixed-use approach to land to increase the population and widen the tax base.

This should be done without extending the city's boundaries, so as to preserve the rest of the South End's rural character, he added.

Since being appointed to the city council, Sparkman chaired the economic development committee of the comprehensive plan process, and the mayor’s Council on Economic Health.

He said during the campaign he was seeking election to the post to continue to build on his local government experience.

During the campaign and in his earlier work on the city council, he championed innovative ideas to attract young families to the city, especially those who could make a better-than-living wage telecommuting from home.

He has also urged the city to broaden its cultural and recreational appeal. He continues to push for a world-class underwater park at Langley Marina to attract big-spending members of the international diving community to the city

However, Sparkman said the roots of the city's past economic problems stemmed from its too-heavy dependence on tourism, which is prone to ups and downs.

Gill said he has become disturbed by the number of housing developments in previously rural areas outside the city.

He also said the city should concentrate on diverse activities and affordable housing in the downtown core, without extending is boundaries in a suburban fashion. He urged that the city use the land it already has more efficiently.

Gill also decried the city's reliance on tourism, and said the emphasis should be redirected to attract residents of the island. He also said the city needs more sidewalks.

Langley City Council members hold staggered four-year terms. The positions are unpaid, but members receive $50 per month for expenses.

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