Bertlin steps up to run for City Council seat in Nov.

Debbie Bertlin is running against incumbent El Jahncke for Pos. 7 on the Mercer Island City Council.   - Rebecca Mar/Staff Photo
Debbie Bertlin is running against incumbent El Jahncke for Pos. 7 on the Mercer Island City Council.
— image credit: Rebecca Mar/Staff Photo

In the single contested race for the City Council, Islander Debbie Bertlin, 47, is challenging longtime incumbent El Jahncke, for Pos. 7.

Bertlin will face Jahncke in the general election in November. A second challenger, Richard Erwin, has withdrawn from the race so a primary vote will not be needed.

Bertlin is a kind of Islander that we all recognize. She is accomplished, articulate and successful. She grew up on the Island, left for college and a career, and has returned to raise her children here. She said she has always considered the Island as home.

“Mercer Island is my village. I moved here when I was 9. Even when I was away at school or working, this was my permanent address, my home,” she said.

As a teenager, she could be found working at the front desk of the Mercer Island Country Club or hanging out at Groveland Beach, playing tennis and swimming, as did her brother, swimmer Andy Lloyd. As a teen she took up distance running and competed in her first half marathon when she was 16.

After graduating from Mercer Island High School in 1982, she attended college at Stanford University, where she earned graduate and undergraduate degrees in sociology. She was the 1988 recipient of the Mercer Island Rotary graduate scholarship that paid for studies in the U.K., where she earned a Master of Arts in political science from the University of Sussex in England. She has spent most of her professional career working for Microsoft, both here and in Europe, Asia and South Africa.


Bertlin left the Island for college and work, but returned for a few years in between, buying a house on First Hill. She returned to live permanently here in 1999. Since then she has immersed herself in the community. She and her husband have two small children aged 4 and 6.

She has been active in the Mercer Island Preschool Association, on the board of Emmanuel Church Day School, is the chair of the Conservancy Trust, and active in other organizations. She led the effort to add walkways along busy 72nd Avenue S.E. She played a major role in procuring new playground equipment at both Luther Burbank Park and at Deane’s Children’s Park. Recognizing that grandparents often accompany grandchildren to parks to play, she wanted to ensure that the equipment was accessible to all. A swimmer her entire life, she has recently become a certified lifeguard, she said, to ensure the safety of her own children.

She wants to know if Islanders find the Council relevant to their daily lives, she said. She worries that the Council’s communication style, or lack thereof, puts people off.

Her top three priorities center around transportation issues, both on the Island and regionwide; improved city-school district cooperation and a Council that will “consistently acknowledge and address the needs of a diverse Island community.”

Bertlin was one of 17 applicants who applied in January for the council seat left vacant by Steve Litzow, who was elected to the state Senate last November. But she is the only one who decided to run for a seat. Jane Meyer Brahm was appointed by the Council to fill the rest of Litzow’s term for Pos. 1. Both she and Mike Cero in Pos. 3 are running unopposed for their seats this November.

Her written application for the interim position is instructive. It includes the statement, “I feel that the Council and the city have historically approached the citizenry as relatively homogeneous.

“It is not only about family values in the old sense,” she explained last week. “For singles and older citizens, it might need to be directed to a person’s sense of, ‘What about me?’”

After she filed to run for office, she met for an hour with her opponent, El Jahncke, who has been a Councilman since 1999.

“I have tremendous respect for Mr. Jahncke and the Council,” she said. But she has what she feels is a different and broader perspective of the Island and its changing needs.

Her written application also shows she believes it is a sober and significant undertaking.

“There are many issues, concerns and challenges facing our city — how a Council member and the Council as a whole comport themselves helps lay and maintain a foundation of trust between community, city staff and other regional players. Yet at the core of the responsibilities is that of safety, for individual well-being and the community’s.”

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