ILWACO — Voters of the Long Beach Peninsula’s southernmost community are filling out their ballots to decide who will lead the city for the next four years, and their choices include a familiar pair of faces.
Ilwaco’s incumbent mayor, Gary Forner, 74 is seeking re-election to the post he’s held since first being elected in 2017. He is facing off against his predecessor, Mike Cassinelli, 78, who was the city’s mayor for two consecutive terms after first being elected to the post in 2009. Both candidates also served on the city council before being elected as mayor.
Both agreed to participate in an Observer questionnaire, and their written responses can be seen below. The Ilwaco Merchants Association is also hosting a mayoral candidate forum over Zoom next Tuesday, Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. A link to the event will be posted on IMA’s Facebook page — www.facebook.com/ilwaco — prior to the event.
Chinook Observer: Why are you running to be the mayor of Ilwaco, and what experience do you have in community and public service?
Gary Forner: I decided to run for mayor after seven years on the city council and saw the lack of leadership and guidance to move Ilwaco forward and stop the stagnation that had settled in and the deterioration of the city’s infrastructure. I knew that with my nearly 50 years of public service that I could get Ilwaco moving forward and get new businesses in the city. I believe that I have accomplished that, but there is still work to do.
Mike Cassinelli: My experience is 16 years in city government, including six years on the city council and eight years as mayor. I serve on two of the governors’ boards and one of the county’s commissions. One reason I am running is that I was asked by members of the community to run for mayor and to help improve the city’s downtown core and maintain the high quality of life in Ilwaco.
CO: What do you believe is the single most important issue facing the City of Ilwaco, and how, as mayor, would you go about addressing it if elected?
GF: Prior to covid-19, the single most important issue facing Ilwaco was the deteriorated infrastructure, poor water quality and lack of a maintenance program to repair and improve our infrastructure. I immediately instituted a maintenance program, directed the department heads to begin repairing or replacing worn out components throughout the city and replaced unsafe vehicles and equipment. There is still a lot of upgrading to do and our citizens are now already seeing the four-year effort of the city crews in the improvement of the water quality.
MC: As with every city there are many issues that are important, but I think that the lack of high-speed internet (broadband) is one issue that has to be solved so that the city and county may move into the 21st century with qualified and educated citizens. I will do my best to move this forward.
CO: What approach do you believe the city should take when it comes to the sale and use of fireworks during the Fourth of July holiday?
GF: I have always enjoyed fireworks, but I have also seen the life-changing injuries to consumer users, the destruction of and the impact on the environment, our beaches, rivers and the leftover mess. I have reached the conclusion that Ilwaco should ban all consumer fireworks and keep Ilwaco a family friendly city and show the other government entities that Ilwaco is leading the way.
MC: I would form a citizens committee to look at several items, including length of time fireworks can be sold and set off, and see how we can work with local law enforcement to make sure we have a way to enforce the use of fireworks.
CO: With housing prices in south county continuing to soar, what action can Ilwaco take to try and bring more low-income and affordable housing to the community’s significant working-class population?
GF: Ilwaco definitely needs working-class housing. Years ago, Ilwaco had working-class housing or dorms for the employed cannery workers and the fishing community. We need help to build housing for all of the workers and families. I have started the discussions with the staff on this topic and the city needs to do some more research and start to get stakeholders and funding.
MC: This is a tough question to answer. The reason being with the urban growth restrictions that the city has, there is very little land that can be used for low-income housing. If elected I will do my best to work with the county, state and feds to get money to develop affordable housing.
CO: What role can the city play in attracting economic development to Ilwaco and revitalizing the downtown area?
GF: During my first term as mayor six new businesses have opened in Ilwaco, more new businesses than the past mayor did in eight years. Ilwaco offers a unique enjoyable lifestyle, free from the pressures of I-5 and the traffic. To help bring in more businesses we need high-speed internet for both home businesses and retail stores, and that is why I am a member of the Pacific County Broadband Working Group.
MC: The city is a member of the Pacific County Economic Development Council. As mayor I will keep the city a member of the council. The council, the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau, the county, the port and the two cities, Long Beach and Ilwaco, all need to work together to attract development. Good wage jobs created anywhere on the peninsula helps everyone.
CO: How can the city work to keep utility rates reasonable for its residents in the coming years while still supporting critical infrastructure projects?
GF: I am not happy with the sewer and water rates and I know that the council is also concerned. When I took office in 2018, I inherited an outdated water and sewer system that was 20 years out of date and had been neglected for several administrations. This lack of maintenance and water quality has come back to haunt us and the cost to repair, update and improve the system has affected the water and sewer rates. The water quality got so bad that the Washington State Department of Health became concerned, and with their help and funding the water plant is now producing high-quality water, the best water Ilwaco has had for decades. And the sewer plant is operating so efficiently that the city does not have to use Long Beach’s biosolids plant.
As these improvements lower the water and sewer plants’ operational costs, I am hopeful that the city can adjust our sewer and water rate costs to our citizens.
MC: When the federal infrastructure bill passes there will be money for small communities to repair their broken and worn utilities. I will have the City of Ilwaco at the head of the line to get some of that money.
CO: What is your favorite thing to do for fun in our peninsula community?
GF: When I arrived in Ilwaco in 1975, I fell in love with the peninsula and Ilwaco and all of the outdoor activities like fishing, hunting, clam digging and standing in the rain and wind enjoying storm watching at North Head Lighthouse.
MC: There are a lot of fun things to do on the peninsula, but fishing is my favorite thing. I charter fish in the summer and I enjoy taking people into the ocean or river and helping them catch salmon or sturgeon.
CO: Simply put, why should the citizens of Ilwaco elect you as mayor?
GF: I am a mayor who is concerned about the wellbeing and safety of Ilwaco’s citizens, their future and their families. This is what good mayors do. It should be the first thing on their agenda. It is not about a political party, bragging rights or gamesmanship. It is all about the citizens of Ilwaco and I hope that I have demonstrated this in my first term.
MC: They should vote for me because of my experience with the city council, with large construction projects, and I have been an Ilwaco business owner for 30 years. I love to live and work in this community and want to see this city thrive. I believe that I have the experience to get the job done.